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The Algerian Revolution—1

Roger Murray
Tom Wengraf

A colonial metropolis may be seen as a “centre of determination” of its
colonies:1 but equally a colony may escape this conventional dependence and
determinacy to erupt into, even momentarily to absorb, the history of its
metropolis. “French” Algeria has proved the paradigm instance of the
dangerous autonomy of colonial interests and ideologies. Source of wealth of
a colonial lobby which became powerfully entrenched in metropolitan
political and economic institutions, logistic and political base for the over-
throw of the IVth Republic, scene of the most prolonged and brutal colonial
war since Indochina, Algeria in the later ’fifties became the epicentre of
French history.
This complex experience provides an exceptionally rich model in any
general study of decolonization. The intimacy and dialectical movement of
the relations between colony and metropolis constitute an extraordinary
field for conceptual elaboration and “totalization”. Properly, for example,
any theory of the Algerian Revolution must involve and integrate a theory of
French bourgeois society as a whole: how otherwise can the advent, sig-
nificance and implications of Gaullist decolonization be understood?
The theoretical interest of Algerian decolonization is, however, of less
concern here than its political significance. The context, form and hopes
afforded by the long struggle for liberation and its achievement confer on it a
special importance: its future necessarily engages us. For this reason we have
a duty not to make hasty or peremptory judgements, but to try and grasp the
specific structure of possibilities and difficulties which emerged from the
liberation struggle. We must understand the colonial system, the liberation
war, and the problems of independence together, as a totality.
Whatever the options which are now being taken, socialists will be par-
ticularly attentive to certain key indices. One must be the extent to which
democracy is realizable and realized in such pivotal institutions as the
party, the trade unions, the communes and the workers’ councils. A second is

* The final draft of Part I was written by Roger Murray, and that of the second (forth-
coming) part by Tom Wengraf.
Portugal and the End of Ultra-Colonialism, NLR 15-17.
The Algerian Revolution

the degree to which the necessity of permanent coercion in the maintenance of

national unity is avoided. A third, the precise content and function of the
Algerian variant of “Arab Socialism” as an ideology. And the fourth must be
the capacity of the Algerians to halt and reverse the process of economic
degeneration initiated by the French: to provide employment for a rapidly
expanding population, to avoid famine in the chaotic postwar conditions, and
to lay the bases for an industrializing and Socialist economy.
The priority of our study is therefore to assist political understanding. Our
account of the “metropolitan” dimension of Algerian liberation will neces-
sarily be abbreviated and notional. Conscious of this limitation, we hope
that, in the absence of any serious synthetic study of Algeria in English, this
essay will be some value to Socialist here.
1. Frenchmen and Algerians
“Que tous, le soldat par son epée, le colon par sa charrue, le prêtre par
sa prière, l’indigène par sa soumission: que tous forment un faisceau de
ces forces, et l’Algerie atteindra â ses destinées que Dieu, sans aucune
doute, lui a faites splendides..”

Le Tell (1865)*

Geographical proximity has been the first condition of the exceptional

mutual involvement of France and Algeria. This proximity to a large extent
abolished the normal colonial “distance”, both temporal and physical, from
the homeland. “The steamship designed by the Englishman Fulton,” cried
the ultramontane Veuillot, “has been of greater service to the Gospel than
was his compatriot, Richard Coeur de Lion”; with this “veritable bridge
thrown from Toulon to Alger” (760 km; cf. Oran-Bone 1170 km) there
began, sluggishly at first, the intense human and economic interpenetration of
the two countries which has constituted France’s effective argument for
possession. Thus, Algeria came to be seen as an integral part of France no
different from Brittany or Maine (and indeed older than Savoy). This thesis
suppressed the distinctive historical reality: for Algeria—unlike Savoy—had
been acquired by colonial war, and its retention was founded on colonial
economic, social, cultural and juridical discrimination.
The historical origins of colonial conquest are well known: the Algerian
adventure, the last act of the discredited Bourbon restoration, was initiated
and supported by a reviving mercantile bourgeoisie constricted by the loss of
Empire (Canada, St. Domingo, Louisiana, etc) and by professional soldiers
still susceptible to napoleonic memories. This bloc was not abandoned by the
succeeding bourgeois regime (despite the alarming revelations of the Com-
mission of Inquiry of 1834). Guizot, in 1835, perfectly and finally defined the
complicity and evasion of bourgeois government confronted with colonial
war: “Governmental action must be preceded by the fait accompli. The

* “. . . Let them all, the soldier by his sword, the colon by his plough, the priest by his
prayer and the native by his submission, form a unity, and Algeria will fulfil their destinies
that God has doubtlessly made splendid . . .”

government must only come upon the scene in order to ratify developments if
they are good; to disavow then if they are bad.” Thus licenced, military
columns ravaged the country which, though possessing only the rudimentary
and ineffectual administration of an Ottoman vizirate, nevertheless im-
pressed military diarists with its evident civilization. Conquest was initially
pure regression: villages were ransacked, flocks decimated, silos burnt,
populations murdered. Resistance was fierce; the campaigns against Abd-el
Kader lasted 18 years, with the brief interruption of a treaty swiftly broken by
the French commander. Total militarization found its advocates immediately.
“To plunder”, wrote the conservative general Bugeaud to the republican
Cavaignac, “one must be strong. We are condemned to plunder in Africa so
as not ourselves to be plundered in France”. Sententious and brutal, the
heroes of the pacification—Cavaignac, Bugeaud, Saint-Arnaud, Clauzel—
relived the campaigns against the Numidians, restored Christian ruins, and
re-created the colonia of Roman times.
These “centres of colonization” were the nuclei of “French Algeria”, a
colony whose rationale was found in the deliberate project of mass settle-
ment.2 Thus began a process of expropriation, settlement and enrichment
which produced a distinctive human type, the pied noir. The pathological
universe of the French Algerians was initially comprehensible in terms of
their past. These settlers were the product of a hundred years of social
upheaval and defeat: the parasites of the July Monarchy armies, the beaten
proletarians of 1848 and the unemployed of the Ateliers Nationaux, political
deportees of 1851, Alsatians made homeless in 1871, French wine-growers
ruined by phylloxera, the Italo-Slav flotsam thrown up by Italian unification,
the opening of the Suez Canal and Balkan war, refugees from Spain and two
world wars. This human deposit, “France chez elle”, was in large measure
not of French origin. One half of the immigrant population of 1848 was
comprised of Spaniards, Italians and Maltese; in 1876, 153,000 of the total
344,000 Europeans were aliens. This defeated, under-privileged and diffuse
mass was to discover a unity and force in the defence of colonial privileges
and the assertion of an “ultra-French” extremism whose bad faith was
evident even in the 1860’s. “They demand total assimilation with the metro-
pole, excluding its taxes and its duties”.3 With the law of 1889 automatically
naturalizing children of aliens born in Algeria, the IIIrd Republic formally
adopted this clamorous “neo-French” progeny. Between 1881 and 1911 came
the flood tide of immigration: population almost doubled from 410,000 to
752,000 (thereafter rising more slowly to 922,000 by 1948); the littoral
plains, densely settled, took on their distinctive colonial physiognomy with the
installation of European viticulture served by the necessary roads, railways
and port infrastructure. The agrarian and banking pressure groups crystal-

Outlined by Maréchal Soult, Minister of War, in 1843: “. . . We cannot wait: it is ab-
solutely imperative that we make colons and construct villages, summon all energies in order
to sanction, to consolidate and to simplify the occupation we achieve by arms . . .” Quoted
by R. Barbé,“Le Question de la Terre en Algérie”, Economie et Politique, November 1955.
Letters of Dr. Vital to Ismael Urbain, 1867.
The Algerian Revolution

lized. An ancillary and service sector rapidly developed.

Thus, French colonialism in Algeria secreted a largely pseudo-French
colonate which, established in its privileges by violence, clung to them with
an arriviste fervour, undiluted by culture or reference to universal values.
Recognizing only that the “truth” of their situation resided in the per-
petuation of colonial domination, the “Algerian French” exploited every
opportunity—in 1848 and 1870 when abortive revolutionary regimes has-
tened to win over French Algeria, above all during the Dreyfus crisis—to
further their interests, with little care either for method or consistency of
policy. When menaced by metropolitan reforms promising to revise their
paramountcy in some way, they reacted with hysterical and successful
violence: the early projects for naturalization of selected Muslims in 1887,
the 1890 Martineau-Jaures project, above all the Blum-Viollette project of
1936, were all aborted in this way. At such moments the ideal attachment
to an abstract France dissolved before the threat of a genuine “assimilation”,
which would involve the extension of French citizenship to Algerian Muslim
subjects, into a raucous and unashamed separation. Thus, the metropolitan
discussion of the 1947 Constitutional Statute which, among other things
proposed a bi-collegial Algerian Assembly of 120 deputies, half of whom
would represent the 141- million male “citoyens de statut local”, provoked a
“Frenchman” of Algeria, the well-known colon M. Abbo, to declare to
Paris-Presse (May 7th, 1947): “You appear only to fear the possibility of
an arab insurrection: try to grasp the fact that there is another danger
facing the incomprehending metropolitan Frenchmen, that of a colon
uprising . . . We are tired of this absurd talk of elections for the natives.
Even if by some tour de force we succeeded once in orienting them in our
favour we could not be for ever repeating the operation. There must be an
end to all this. We want no more governors drenched in an anachronistic
sentimentality, but strong men who can ensure respect for our rights by
showing force and, if necessary, by using it. In 1936, I sabotaged the Blum-
Viollette project and the government capitulated before me. What business
had General de Gaulle in meddling once again in this business? Believe me,
I know how to bring them to heel . . .”And at this period, M. Boyer-Banse, a
former Director of Agriculture in an open letter to the French Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, was speaking of arraigning France before the United Nations
should the French Assembly pass the Statute . . . 4

4 Francis Jeanson succinctly characterized this fundamental motif in the history of the

“French Algerian”: “his separatism, whose manifestations are innumerable . . . is in sum

nothing more than the obverse, the negative, of his super-patriotism . . . In other words,
Algeria has simultaneously to remain a colony, which entails the maintenance of an initial
balance of forces based on the military power of the metropolis, and at the same time to
escape metropolitan control as completely as possible . . . Ever insistent to “oppose” itself
to France, i.e. to French institutions, the French colonate in Algeria found itself compelled
—on certain occasions—to resort to France, or rather to the French army, for help: hence
its remarkable oscillations between the vocabulary of patriotism and that of separatism.”
C. & F. Jeanson, L’Algerie Hors La Loi, esp. pp.84–90

“Ideal” Frenchmen, the Europeans of Algeria were also united in a

mystifying collective self-consciousness which similarly denied changing
reality. Emotionally, every pied-noir remained a “pioneer”; every pied-noir,
whether clerk, mechanic or shopkeeper, was—metaphorically—a colon. This
intensity of attachment to their “origins”, to the “traditions” of intrepidity
and painful valorization of the land (“We have made Algeria what it is”),
occupied a central position in the affective universe of the Algerian French-
men and was constantly re-affirmed—in the continuing social and political
leadership of the leading colon families, in a sustained para-military pre-
paredness vis-à-vis the Muslims in a certain “frontier” style in human
relations. This living mythology blurred and harmonized the divergences
revealed in even the most rudimentary social morphology of the European
For with increasing specialization, concentration of holdings, and mecha-
nization in agriculture,5 the rural component of the European population
stabilized absolutely and declined relatively from the 1920’s. More important,
it changed in character: the early small peasant entrepreneurs, predominantly
cereal cultivators, first threatened by the huge concessions to agrarian and
banking joint-stock companies made by the impecunious Napoleon III,6
were from the 1880’s onwards eclipsed by the advance of viticulture. Income
differentials widened according to the size of holding and profitability of the
crop:7 wine-growers emerged as the new agrarian “aristocracy”. During the
twentieth century, with the growing domination of capital and ensuing
property rationalization, the settler “peasantry” was largely absorbed
(although never completely replaced) by the new rentier and managerial
agriculture. Numerically reduced, the older stratum of peasant pioneers
became financially and politically dependent on the rich colonate and was
easily disciplined through the large colons’ control over the flow of credits.8
Parallel to this development of a capitalistic, export-oriented, type of rural
economy, there was a dramatic movement to the towns both of unsuccessful
small cultivators seeking work and of enriched colons retiring from the
inconveniences of rural existence. This transformation of the European

5 In 1930, 26,153 Europeans owned a total of 2,234,000 ha; in 1950, 22,000 owned 2,726,000

ha, and 85 per cent of European lands were held by 6,385 large colons.
6 Concession of 25,000 ha in the Setif region to the Compagnie Genevoise; 1865 concession

of 20,000 ha to Ste. Generale de l’Hambra et de la Macta; 1867 concession of 100,000 ha to

the Ste. Generale Algérienne (later the Compagnie Algérienne)
Differential profitability per hectare may reasonably be expressed thus: 1 ha of vines
“equals” 8–10 ha of cereals (see H. Insard, La Vigne en Algérie; Michel Launay, Paysans
8 “In the rich Mitidja before 1860 more than 30,000 ha were distributed in lots of under

10 ha. Now, European proprietors with less than 10 ha cover hardly 3,000 ha in all.”
The decline of the smallholder over the country as a whole is given in the following table:
European Holdings Below 50 ha.
Number Total Area Covered
1840–95 32,000 600,000 plus
1951 13,000 158,000
R. Barbe, “La Question de la Terre en Algérie”, Economie et Politique, 1955; Recensement
de l’Agriculture, 1951.
The Algerian Revolution

population was spectacular: by 1954, over three-quarters of a million

Europeans (81.5 per cent of the total European population) lived in urban
communes. The towns which they inhabited, both in their specific physical
and human structure and in the position which they occupied within the
economy as a whole, symbolize and explain many of the particularities of the
colonial system in Algeria.
The European ville grew with vertiginous speed from the beginning of the
twentieth century, superimposing its plan upon that of the old Turkish town,
isolating and surrounding the casbah or medina behind the new administra-
tive buildings, office blocks and residential quartiers of the colonial city. The
life of the quartiers—Bab el Oued and Mustapha in Alger, the quartier des
Planteurs in Oran—was intense and volatile: it was as if the European
“petit peuple”, drawn together by some law of compensatory density, hoped
forever to abolish the reality of the urban Muslim by simply expelling him
from their visual universe. The leading towns were not the creation of
industrialization and inherent technical progress, but were rather the product
of an export-directed colonial agriculture, whose rents and profits found an
urban outlet in consumption and speculation. As in Latin America, city
growth expressed the illogic and imbalance of the society as a whole, with the
classic manifestations of an aberrant relationship with the countryside: a
top heavy, over-centralized administrative apparatus, spectacularly housed; a
gross concentration of amenities and entertainments; a feeble development of
industry, and, on the peripheries, the vast army of the native sub-proletariat.
The tertiary sector was chronically inflated, employing no less than 57 per
cent of the European work-force in 1954. Within the limits imposed by the
customs union (definitively established in 1884), a parasitic and secondary
industrialization did take place but as late as 1948 the percentage of total
active population employed in industry, mines and transport was only
8.3 per cent. At the beginning of the 1950’s, approximately 90,000 Europeans
were classified as skilled or unskilled workers out of the total European
non-agricultural work-force of 240,000: the vast majority of pieds noirs were
office employees, small traders, caterers and mechanics.
But this secular transformation and differentiation did not disintegrate the
European population into its contradictory elements. Social antagonisms
remained inchoate and fitful, manifesting themselves in occasional strikes or
in the periodic and ephemeral organization of smaller colons against the
political and financial hegemony of the agrarian magnates. The lack of
articulate class divisions within the European population is explained
precisely by its colonial situation; Europeans collectively derived their em-
ployment, their riches, their place in the sun, from the rigorous exclusion and
exploitation of Algerian Muslims. In its fundamental structure, Algerian
colonial society was bi-polar, defined by the constant opposition and separa-
tion of victors and vanquished, exploiters and exploited, “citizens” and
“subjects”, wealthy and poor. The overwhelming preoccupation of the
Europeans was to absolutize their social, economic and juridical distance

from the indigènes, to establish a caste system that would both instrumenta-
lize and justify an eternal domination. Within this framework all Europeans
were privileged, all were arrivistes, all found their positivity in the negation of
the Muslim majority. Expropriated, pauperized, denied political rights, the
Algerian Muslims were reduced to a human vegetation.

Broadly, the parabola of Algeria’s constitutional evolution was determined

by two forces: the growing economic and political weight of the European
colonate; and the varying susceptibility of the metropolis to the demands of
Algerian democrats and nationalists. The earlier organization of the colonate
extracted concessions which effectively blocked satisfaction of the reformist
aspirations of the first generation of Algerian nationalists. Initially reliant on
metropolitan military and legal backing, the Europeans increasingly re-
sented centralized administration and military powers; with their growth in
numbers and security they insisted on a considerable de-centralization. The
resulting arrangement was a soi-disant “assimilation”,9 whose essentially
partial application reveals and defines the basic interests of the colonate. Up
to the 1870’s, “assimilation” had a triple meaning for the settlers:
(i) The ruthless application of French administrative and juridical norms to
facilitate settlement and valorization (legislation of 1858, 1868 and 1870
establishing municipal and departmental structure; cantonnement, the
senatus-consulte of 1863, and particularly the loi Warnier of 1873
attacking public, tribal and individual lands);
(ii) access to the full civil and political rights of metropolitan Frenchmen
(naturalization laws of 1870 and 1889; laws of 1848, 1870 etc, on
representation in French political institutions);
(iii) termination of military rule and liquidation of the Arab Bureaux
(attained everywhere except in the Territories of the South by 1934).
However, experience of full “assimilation” between 1881–96 (the period of
rattachement, whereby Algeria was the direct responsibility of the nine
French ministers who administered the territory as they did the rest of
France through their responsible fonctionnaires) proved unwelcome and
potentially dangerous to the expanding colonate. Their objective was clarified:
to form “an integral part of France”, while retaining special local advantages
of administrative and financial autonomy, a disproportionate weight of
political representation, and the guarantees afforded by a colonial economic
relationship to the metropole. between 1896–1900, the French Algerians
deployed a fanatical anti-Dreyfusardism to extort successive concessions
from the bloc-des gauches: derattachement and the appointment of a
Governor-General, responsible only to the Minister of the Interior, who
would take “advice” from a Conseil Superieur composed of local officials and

9 The history and vicissitudes of “assimilation” may be followed in T. Oppermann’s La

Probleme Algérienne or, more conveniently, in Mohamed Cherif Sahli’s study, “De l’Assimila-
tion, a l’Integration: une mystification politique”, Temps Modernes, November 1955.
The Algerian Revolution

nominated representatives of the population (1896); the creation of advisory

Delegations financières, largely chosen from the leading colons,10 whose first
action was to reject the threatened introduction of metropolitan tax-scales to
Algeria (1898); and, finally, the decisive winning of budgetary autonomy in
1900. Commanding the Algerian scene from the financial bastions of the
Delegations financières, dominating urban and municipal councils and thus
the Federation of Mayors, the Europeans of Algeria were also powerfully
entrenched in French political and economic life. With representatives in the
Assembly, and a sympathetic hearing on the boards of companies with
N. African interests, by the 1920’s, their power was at its apogee.
However, a second front was already opening up: the admittance of
Algerian Muslims to the French “city”. “Assimilation” did not pretend to a
logical coherence as a constitutional doctrine even where French citizens
were concerned: the Algerian French so clearly enjoyed a special status. It
broke down completely when applied to the Algerian Muslims. Until 1946
“subjects of French nationality”, Algerian Muslims were held “outside” the
city by a rigorous administrative segregation which determined their diff-
erential personal status, and the quality of their citizenship, juridical and
political rights. Only Muslims prepared to abandon their “personal status”
(that is, their exemption from French law on such matters as marriage and
property still determined by traditional koranic law) could be admitted to
French citizenship upon individual application (by the Senatus-consulte of
1865) and the failure of this selective assimilation was revealed in the natura-
lization statistics: some 2,500 between 1866 and 1934. Again, Algerian
Muslims were subjected to a separate judicial regime—the code de l’indigenat
—which in effect placed them under the summary justice of administrative
action until 1946. The colonial caste system was thus expressed in and
legitimized by a statutory segregation applying to administrative, political
and juridical rights.
Until the 1930’s, the only source of effective criticism of this scheme of
eternal domination was the periodic liberalism of metropolitan politicians,
sensitive on occasion to the “Algerian problem”. In 1887, Michelin and
Gautier presented draft legislation for the collective naturalization of several
categories of Algerian Muslims; this was followed in 1890 by a further
project introduced by Martineau and Jaures. Both were successfully blocked
by the colonate but the political unchallengeability of the pieds noirs was
momentarily disrupted by the First World War (over half a million Algerians
crossed the Mediterranean to serve in the army or in French factories).
Immediately after the war, Clemenceau was able to push through, despite
frenzied opposition, a modest lav extending French citizenship to selected
categories of “subjects” (though again, on renunciation of personal status), a

Membership was as follows: 48 Europeans, 24 Muslims (of whom 17 Arabs and 7
Kabyles). The 12,512 proprietors in the “colon” section enjoyed the same representation of
24 seats as the 38,593 “non-colons”.

two-fifths representation of Algerian Muslims in the conseils generaux, and

participation of Muslim municipal councillors in the election of Mayors.
This limited advance, which changed no fundamental principle in the
relations between Frenchmen and Algerians and which was subordinated to a
careful arithmetical calculation, was denounced by the European section of
the Delegations financières as a “threat to our presence and our security”. It
was systematically negated in practice by the political power of the Europeans
in the Federation of Mayors, in the administration and in the Delegations.
No further reform was to be tolerated—despite the efforts of the Popular
Front government in 1936—until the Second World War shook both the
metropolitan and the Algerian foundations of the colonial bloc.
* * *
It is useless and unnecessary to offer a complete hypothetical reconstruction
of Algerian society on the eve of colonial conquest. What is incontrovertible
is the existence at that time of a relative prosperity, of a considerable social
articulation and a general level of culture quite comparable with those of
many European countries. This truth, appropriately forgotten by the later
generations of Algerian colons, has been well stated by Mostefa Lacheraf:
“In the first half of the nineteenth century . . . the crossing of the Medi-
terranean, while it involved a real uprooting for the French soldier or
European immigrant, was not a radical rupture; if the immediate human
environment was alien to the European, it was at least recognizable in the
terms of the conventional images of strange and slightly exotic modes of
life. The margin between this part of Africa and a mercantile, industrial-
izing Europe was certainly very considerable. Nevertheless, Algeria was no
barbarian country inhabited by an illiterate people with anarchic or
sterile institutions. Its human and economic values attained a high level and
while the concepts and criteria of its civilization differed somewhat from
those of France, they also belonged in many of their aspects to certain
universal forms. Patriarchal, agricultural and civic life-styles co-existed,
often fused in a social system which was quite open either to evolutionary
or retardatory influences. Throughout there was a marked sense of energy
and industry: in maritime and artisanal techniques, in the para-industrial
methods, in city organization, in the commerce with Africa and across the
Mediterranean, in a system of intellectual values which was strongly
impregnated with legal traditions, formal logic, more or less rationalist
theology, with the arabic and maghrebine folk traditions and so on. This
totality, with its various and proliferating elements, composed a worthy
and widely diffused culture, generalized through its written and oral
expression. Taking account of the resources and possibilities which it
contained, and of the national and cultural dynamism which animated it,
Algeria in the earlier nineteenth century displayed far fewer deficiencies, far
more chances of progress in relation to the civilization of the period and the
general movement of free peoples than it did by the end of the century,
stripped of its millions of hectares of forests, robbed of its mines, of its
The Algerian Revolution

liberty, of its institutions and thus of the essential prop and motor of any
collective progress . . . ”11
The ample records of military destructiveness and atavism are also records
of what was destroyed. “More than 50 fine villages, built of stone and
roofed with tiles, were destroyed. Our soldiers made very considerable
pickings there. We did not have the time, in the heat of combat, to chop
down the trees. The task, in any case, would have been beyond our strength.
20,000 men armed with axes could not in six months cut down the olives
and fig trees which cover the beautiful landscape which lay at our feet”.12
“There were still numerous bands of the enemy on the summits, and I was
hoping for another engagement. But they refused to come down and I
began to chop down the fine orchards and to set fire to the magnificent
villages under the enemy’s eyes” (1846); “I left in my wake a vast confla-
gration. All the villages, some 200 in number, were burnt down, all the
gardens destroyed, all the olive trees cut down” (1851).13 The indigenous
people, near 6 million in 1830, was reduced to 221- million by 1852.14

This society was complex and differentiated: its constituent elements were
related by multiple internal movements and transactions which gave con-
sistency to the whole. Tell and Sahara, town and country, desert and oasis,
were linked through the mediation of nomads, traders, artisans and preachers.
Outside the cities, the largest genuine collectivity was the tribe, united by real
or fictive genealogical descent from an eponymous ancestor, collective
proprietor of a determinate geographical space and the flocks it supported.
The tribal identity was defined in opposition to “other” tribes, to which it
was linked in time of peace by a necessary complementarity, just as it was
linked to the town.
“The commercial relations between tribes take place by means of markets
held on regular days on sites often at some distance from camps and settle-
ments. They also come to trade in the towns, always taking care to carry
away the maximum quantity of currency to hoard . . . As for the trade in
the province as a whole, Oran has become its chief entrepôt since the depart-
ure of the Spaniards.
“It amounted to a total of about 2,000,000 francs exchanged mainly for
cereals or other local products, which were exported exclusively by way of
Oran but also through Arzew, Rio-Salado and Tafna, and almost always via

11 “Constantes politiques et militaires des guerres coloniales de l’Algerie, 1830–1960”,

Temps Modernes, January 1961.

12 Marechal Bugeaud, May 1844, Ouled Ysser.
13 Letters of Marechal de St-Arnaud,
14 In 1833, Hamdan Osman Khodja, former State treasurer to the Turkish deylik, who had

gone to Paris on behalf of the Algerians estimated the population on the eve of the invasion
at ten millions; while Marechal Bugeaud declared to the Chamber of Peers on January 24th,
1845, “nous croyons qu’il y a sous notre domination environ quatre millions d’Arabes.” At
this date—after fifteen years of fighting—most of Kabylie and the towns of the South had
not yet been “pacified”.

Jewish intermediaries who, together with a few Moors, handle urban trade
under a monopoly from the Bey”.15
The tribe, led by its sheik was formed through the federation or vertical
integration of clans (c’offs), and its basic particle was the patriarchal-
patrilinear family. At once a social, economic and religious unit, the family
was the structural model of the whole system, indivisible, consecrated by the
joint execution of the traditional agrarian rituals as also by the koranic
insistence on the primacy of the family within the umma. The myth of the
“anarchy” of arabo-turk Algeria cannot survive serious historical inspection.
The Algerian experience of colonial brutality and violence is perhaps only
exceeded by that of the Indians of North America and the tribes of South
West Africa. “Pacification”—which required an army of 100,000 men by the
1840’s—aimed at the systematic military and economic shattering of the
tribes. Tribal resistance was only finally overcome with the defeat of Moq-
rani’s uprising in 1871. The submission of Abdel Kader (1847), heralded in the
textbooks, had marked only the conquest of the Tell perimeter: the following
years were almost uninterruptedly given over to campaigns against the
tribes of Greater and Lesser Kabylie, against the Ouled Sidi Sheikh, against
the nomadic tribes of the South. Between 1830 and 1870, there were only five
years of “peace”—1859–64—and this was a period of massive emigration from
the Constantinois. Emigration, which was considerable,16 facilitated settlement.
But where occupation was maintained, the French resorted to administrative
and judicial measures to seize the most fertile lands and to replace tribal
political authority. The Senatus-consulte of 1863 created a new administrative
unit, the douar, which was superimposed without regard to the existing
articulation of traditional society; fractions were split, tribes intermingled.
Only in the Kabylie and the Aures did the old institutions to some extent
survive; in the Arab plains, the officials and institutions of the douar (espe-
cially the council, or djemaa) came to replace older forms.
“A veritable social vivisection”, the programme of appropriation fell into
two parts. First, annexation of lands classified as Beylik (public domaines,
including habous*, arbitrary restriction of Arch (communal, tribal lands)
combined with outright sequestration of “rebel” properties (for example, the
500,000 ha sequestration in Kabylie following Moqrani’s defeat). Secondly,
the juridical transformation of melk (private and family) lands, formerly
protected by the traditional institution of indivision (the collective integral
inheritance of property by all heirs), into “individual” property (Loi Warnier
of 1873); thus “liberated”, the lands could be bought or confiscated through
economic mechanisms—that is, through usury and extortion. Land legislation

Captain Tatareau, Memoire sur le province d’Oran, 1833, cited by Launay op. cit.
Augustin Berque, a Colonial Administrator and author of a story about “La Bourgeoisie
Algerienne”, (Hesperis, 1948), listed the major departures. 1830, 1832, 1834, 1860, 1870,
1875, 1888, 1898, 1910 and 1911 (the famous Teemcen exodus). Oran which had 40,000
inhabitants in 1831 had sunk to 2,895 in 1861.
* The habous, the medieval mortmain, was created out of charitable inalienable donations
to religious institutions; however, the revenues deriving from the property were retained for
the use of the donor and his heirs.
The Algerian Revolution

was completed by special codes relating to forests, mines etc. Thus, the
European colonate possessed itself of one quarter of the total cultivated
surface: and two-fifths of the land had been francisée, were subject to the
control of French law (all European-owned lands plus 2,243,000 ha); of the
land remaining under Muslim and traditional laws, two-fifths were melk
(private property) and one-fifth arch (tribal).17 Vast in extent, this appropria-
tion takes on fuller significance when the disposition of European lands is
examined: over 80 per cent of the Mitidja, 90 per cent of the Sahel and
Alger plains, over 80 per cent in the plains of Bone, Philippeville and parts of
Oranie. These were the most fertile and productive lands in all Algeria.
More important, this physical in implantation had dynamic and disruptive
implications which shattered the traditional social system.
The “explosion” of Algerian society, the consequence of the project of
settlement, revealed itself in a triple assault on traditional social organization
and culture. Economically, the seizure of land, deflection of streams, con-
fiscation of forests dislocated the ecological equilibrium of a rural economy
based on the inter-relation of extensive pastoral-cerealculture routines, and in
so doing extinguished urban artisanal and commercial prosperity. Socio-
logically, a process of radical atomization and displacement was set in
motion: thus, “the nomadism of he shepherds, moving in great caravans
made up of an entire tribe or of clans headed by their sheikh, has very fre-
quently given way to the nomadism of the work-hungry driving towards the
towns destitute individuals who have been torn from their traditional way of
life and cut off from their now completely disintegrated community”.18
Demographic advance exaggerated the disequilibrium of the population:
resource ratio and necessitated a desperate exodus of the masculine population
to the larger towns and to France.19 The urbanized indigènes reduced by
physiological misery to a collective anonymity, could thus permanently
confirm the solipsistic racism of the colonial situation in Algeria. The
eradication of the original structures of the Algerian people was completed by
a systematic cultural pauperization. In 1834, General Valaze had noted that,
“nearly all the Arabs can read and write: in each village, there are two
schools”. There followed the most appalling recidivism. Faithful to their
interests, the representatives of the colonate applied a policy of suffocation of
traditional lettered culture, whose conclusion was the statutory classification
of Arabic as a “foreign language” in 1938; the importation and circulation of
Arabic texts was restricted, the instruction at mosques degenerated.20

Pierre Bourdieu, The Algerians, Beacon Press 1962, p. 121.
18 Pierre Bourdieu, Sociologie de l’Algérie P.U.F. 1961, p. 62.
19 The urban population as a percentage of the total population soared from 13.9 per cent
in 1886 to 24.9 per cent in 1954. Between 1936 and 1954, Muslim urban population increased
by 824,000.
20 Maurice Wahl, a partisan of cultural “assimilation”, bitterly attacked the destructive-

ness of French policy. “We began by destroying almost entirely the meids (primary schools),
zaouias (rural schools, all stages), medersas (higher schools) and all the other Muslim schools
existing before 1830 . . . Later we took certain confused initiatives . . . whose results have
been only mediocre and sometimes negative”.

Simultaneously, the colons ferociously and successfully opposed any ex-

tension of occidental education to the Algerian “subjects of France”:
“Considering that the education of natives constitutes a grave threat to the
Assembly as much from the economic point of view as from that of con-
tinuing French settlement, [the Assembly] expresses its desire that primary edu-
cation of natives should be abolished (Congress of colons, March 21st, 1908).”
The polarization which may be regarded as the fundamental principle of
colonialism in Algeria is clearly indicated by the statistics of literacy and
educational experience.
Illiterates as Those receiving
percentage of population primary education
per cent of population
(1950) (1954)
Algerian “Muslims” 90 percent 19 per cent
Algerian “French” 6 percent 100 per cent
T. Opperman, Le Problème Algérien, p.48–9.
F. Jeanson, La Revolution Algérienne, p.29.
Statistics for secondary education were not available at the time of writing
but Opperman notes that “the number of pupils receiving secondary educa-
tion rose in 1952 to 28,178 of which only one-fifth were Muslims”, which is
highly indicative if one considers that there were approximately nine times as
many Muslims as there were Europeans.
As for university education, the Algerian “French” had a similar rate to
that of the French of France—one student per 300 inhabitants—while for the
indigènes the figure was something of the order of one student per 15,000
In Algeria, therefore, the “cultural shock” of colonization was not merely
the product of the impact of an industrialized colonial society upon an
indigenous predominantly agrarian society, an objective process where, as
Pierre Nora sarcastically puts it, “everyone was responsible but no-one
culpable”. On the contrary it was the experience in precise historical and
cultural conditions of a deliberate, methodical destruction of an existing
civilization in the interests of the colonizing power.
Thus, Algerian society in the colonial context underwent dramatic muta-
tions, some accelerating processes of interpenetration already in motion,
others the original product of a qualitatively new situation. The elements of
this complex process may be seized in the changing rapport of Arab and
Berber, nomad and sedentarist, town and country. These transformations, of
course, comprise a global whole: Bedouins “berberized” in the process of
sedentarization; the dislocation of the traditional rural economy reflected in
a general human intensification, a demographic revolution, of which sedenta-
rization and urbanization are two different forms. Differentiations were
submerged in a series of gradations between opposites; the society took on
the character of an agitated kaleidoscope. The Berbers (estimated at 29 per
The Algerian Revolution

cent of the population by Ch-André Julien) had intermixed with Arabs even
before the hilalian invasions in such geographically pivotal areas as the
valley of the Cheliff; and Islamization, linquistic conversion to Arabic, a
hypothetical genealogical assimilation had long blurred the basic opposition
between nomadic, militant Arabs and Berber sedentarists forced up into the
rugged country of greater and lesser Kabylie. By the mid twentieth century
there were far more “arabized” Berbers than pure Arabs. The common
enemy, colonializing and Christian, contributed to further obliterate the
separation which the French could still successfully exploit in Morocco.
Intolerable population density creeated a large Berber proletariat and sub-
proletariat in the towns; while in he hills the French superimposed on the
democratic assembly of the collectivity (djemaa) the caidate of the Ottoman
Empire. Intermediate and transitional forms (transhumance, semi-stabiliza-
tion) multiplied between sedentarist and nomad, to cope with the shrinking
spatio-temporal dimensions of indigenous agriculture.21 As population
mounted, vital space and flocks dwindled.22 The nomad, traditionally the
aristocratic exploiter and “protector” of the ksourien (sedentary agricultura-
lists), declined into peripheral beggar or, later, Saharan employee. The
town, formerly an economic, religious and cultural entrepôt for a defined
rural milieu to which it remained attached by fundamental affinities of
structure and value, was now transformed into the quite distinct “colonial
town”, symbol of fracture and estrangement. The process was classic—
uncontrollable growth, disintegration of family and artisanal corporation,
internal dichotomy of ville and casbah or medina, proliferation of new social
categories united more by common situation than by common organization:
the unemployed, the sub-proletariat, a new parasitic petty bourgeoisie,
“intellectuals” produced by some western education.
Fluid and mobile, Algerian society did not totally dissolve before the
impact of colonization. The tenacity and resistance with which initial settle-
ment had been met continued to manifest themselves—but on a reduced
scale and at the level of fundamental, intimate values. It might be said that
colonization revealed the basic unit of the social system: the extended
patrilinear family.23 The family was not irreducible but its adaptability as a

21 An inquest in the Southern territories conducted by M. Capot-Rey in 1938 gave the

following percentages of nomads, semi-nomads and sedentarists: 58 per cent, 17.6 per cent
and 24.3 per cent in the High Plains and Saharan Atlas; 30.3 per cent, 12.8 per cent and 56.8
per cent in the pre-Saharan zone; and 27.7 per cent, 8.8 per cent and 63.4 per cent in the
Sahara proper.
22 From 1845 onwards, observers notec the suppression of pasture rights by the europeans

on lands they occupied and also in the forests, In 1914. Professor Flamand warned that
“the regions of the High Tell are now almost completely closed for pastures” and that “the
roll-back towards the South has its limits”. See R. Barbé, op. cit., who gives figures:
mean of years all herds all muslim herds only
1906–1915 8,961,000 8,218,000
1946–1953 4,350,000 3,837,000
On this subject, consult P. Bourdieu, op.cit.; Saddia and Lakhdar, L’Aliénation Col-
onialiste et la Résistance de la Famille Algérienne, Lausanne 1961 or Temps Modernes for
June and July 1961; and Frantz Fanon, L’An V de la Révolution Algérienne, Maspero 1960.

foyer of resistance was remarkable. The introspective domestic architecture,

the genealogically-vehiculated memory of the past, a language impregnated
with courtesy and alien cultural reference, the dense network of solidarities
imposed by common religious and economic functions—these were methods
of preserving and asserting a final alterity which defeated the most brutal
intrusions of the colonizer. The family was in a sense “insurmountable”: its
economic unity was maintained by lack of techniques, capital and certainty;
its social unity was not only threatened but reinforced by the profound
instability of colonial existence; and its cultural personality was justified and
expressed in the religious, legal and affective existence of the group. To
overcome this ultimate unit of resistance, French colonialism would have
had to undertake and undergo the unthinkably massive financial, sociological
and intellectual transformation—huge rural credits and equipment, a full
employment policy, social services, a complete western education for the
rising generations—that it was never prepared to put through.
Islam, civilization rather than mere religion, provided the “tonality” of
opposition to the colonial power rather than its organizational framework or
ideological programme.
Two factors help to explain this. Firstly, Maghrebine Islam, Sunnite and
malekite, had been characterized by the superimposition of a rigorous
practice upon a Berber agrarian-cultic base; its doctrinal elaboration had
always remained slight, and Algerian Islam especially could be regarded as a
hierarchy of beliefs and ritual practices in which at least three simultaneous
and related forms coexisted: orthodox Sunnism, the religion of the urban
mosques and the law of the charaa; the mystic Islam of the fraternities and
the marabouts, traditionally heterodox; finally, the animist and magical
Islam of the countryside, thinly disguising an antique substratum beneath
saint worship and festivals. Secondly, the French had swiftly “nationalized”
religious properties (habous) and had thus come to dominate the selection of
religious leaders (muftis, marabouts etc). During the colonial period, a
complicit bloc of clerics were promoted to occupy many of the formal
positions of authority and influence; the marabouts, degenerate sufi holymen,
were especially discredited by their craven association with the colonial
authority.24 Algerian Islam therefore did not retain intact the firm structura-
tion of its Moroccan counterpart, which was embodied in the Cherifian
Sultan, maintained in its ideological vitality by the bourgeoisie and students
of Fes and the Kariwiyin university-mosque. This decadence of Algerian
Islam was to be attacked by the reformist Ulemas in the 1930’s, the first wave
of nationalism inside Algeria.

24 The character of the 1939 “Congres des Confreries religieuses” is evoked in their pious

resolution, “That the marabout should concern himself with the spiritual instruction of his
adepts; that the administrator should attend to administration; and whoever has some de-
mand, whether on his behalf or on that of another, for his correligionnaries, should apply to
the superior Administration by way of his local authorities: this will certainly be the most
profitable for him.” Cited by Jacques Berque, Le Maghreb entre Deux Guerres, p.307.
The Algerian Revolution

This obdurate, conservative resistance was essentially an attachment to the

past, to values and structures which despite colonialism had not yet been
eroded. The conditions for a revolutionary, political opposition to colonial
domination were difficult in Algeria. A process of pulverization had shattered
the traditional leading social forcess: the tribal “feudal” rulers, and the
traditional Muslim bourgeoisie of Constantine, Tlemcen and Alger. The
comparison with Morocco and Tunisia is suggestive: both these were
Protectorates where French impact was both more recent (1912 and 1881
respectively) and more restricted. In Morocco, a religious monarchy, semi-
autonomous tribal potentates and the bourgeoisie and intelligentsia of Fes,
Meknes and similar towns retained a considerable political and social
independence. In Tunisia, too, the monarchy (despite some collaboration)
retained some freedom of manoeuvre and the bourgeoisie of Tunis was far
stronger than its Algerian counterpart. The bachagas, and caids of colonial
Algeria were feeble appendages of French rule, with no autonomous sup-
ports in Algerian society itself. There was no El Glaoui in Algeria. The
catastrophic destructuration of Algerian society made possible and necessitated
a revolutionary re-integration. Colonial pulverization of Algerian society was
regretted even by the French themselves.*
Algeria exhibits with pellucid clarity the logic of an incomplete maximum
colonization: an intensive settlement radically destructive of indigenous
society; the irreversible transfiguration of the landscape, appropriated by
violence and restructured by superior technology; the creation of a colonial
“order” founded upon a many-dimensional polarization—economic,
political and cultural—of colons and colonized; and the permanent “justifica-
tion” of this system in terms of the a-historical solipsism and interested
emotionality of a classic colonial ideology.
But these general features of an advanced colonial situation assume a
particular acuteness in the Algerian case.
Conditioned by unusual geographical closeness, the regressive impact of
colonization in Algeria was further maximized by the deliberateness and
incompletion of the project of settlement. Fully realized in Australia and
North America, the annihilation of the “natives” was, despite the recruit-
ment of a heterogeneous mass of South European settlers, demographically
impossible for nineteenth-century France, which therefore contented itself
with militarily-enforced appropriations and the definitive crushing of
organized resistance. Early demands for outright annihilation or refoule-
ment (roll-back to the Sahara) of the Algerians gave way, by the First
World War, to anxieties over the supply of cheap labour.

* As Governor-General, Jules Cambon, pointed out in the Senate in 1894. “After the
Turkish authorities had disappeared . . . there was no day on which we did not try to destroy
the great families. . . because we found them to be forces of resistance. We did not realize that,
in suppressing the forces of resistance in this fashion, we were also suppressing our means of
action. The result is that we are today confornted by a sort of human dust on which we have
no influence and in which movements take place which are to us unknown. We no longer
have any authoritative intermediaries between ourselves and the indigenous population.” (Le
Gouvernement-Générale de l’Algerie 1891–1897, Paris 1918, p.59)

In Algeria, a comparatively complex and sophisticated civilization was

ruthlessly shattered, and its political and economic institutions atrophied; but
its memories, aspirations and culture were not irrevocably eliminated. In
particular, the society fell back on two bases which could afford a per-
spective for continuing refusal of the colonial situation: Islam and the
family. “The Arabs will never belong to France before they are christianized”
observed Bugeaud’s secretary; and the Europeans of Algeria showed by their
insistent assaults upon the enclosed privacy of the Algerian family an accu-
rate assessment of its dangerous capacity for resistance.
Again, the exceptional virulence, disingenuousness and auto-mystification
of the “assimilationist” colonial ideology derived from the specific human
character of the settlement—lumpen, polyglot and adventurist—while the
extraordinary semantic and political vicissitudes of “Algerie Francaise”
corresponded precisely to the shifts within a peculiar triangle of forces: a
largely self-governing colonate, a vacillating, ineffectual metropolitan
government and, lastly, an anonymous, looming presence, the Algerians
This alien presence, latent and “unknown”,* infiltrated European sensi-
bility in the form of a profound demographic and cultural fear. The pied-
noir inhabited a precarious universe: pursued by hallucinations from the
past and the future alike, he betrayed his apprehensions in a life-style which
could only celebrate the present, an immobilized, sunlit world of profits and
the “plage”.

2. Wine and Cereals

Algeria’s colonial economy explains and illustrates its colonial system as a

whole: it is characterized by severe sectoral imbalance, a racially determined
economic geography, structural entrenchment of inhuman priorities. We
shall not try to offer here a complete quantitative examination of the Algerian
economy;25 our main concern is to establish the economic foundations of an
inflexibly oppressive and divided social order. The economy is discussed
synchronically, as it was on the eve of the liberation war. The main sources
are the 1950–1 Recensement de l’Agriculture and the Annuaires Statistiques.
The determining importance of agricultural interests is of course suggested
in the raw statistics: agriculture accounted for one-third of Gross Domestic
Product, earned 67 per cent of export value, and employed 81 per cent of
total work-force (higher than Pakistan or Egypt). But these figures conceal
the profoundly dichotomous structure of Algerian agriculture. Two agrarian

The work of Albert Camus, for all its aesthetic merits, stands as a stupefying monument
to the solipsism of the pied-noir.
Readers specially interested in ecomonic analyses of Algerian “underdevelopment”
should consult Rene Gendarme, L’Economie de l’Algerie, Armand Colin (1959) and the
essays collected in Francois Perroux, L’Algerie de Demain, PUF (1962). Both are strongly
biased towards “co-operation”; See Fidel Castro on Tshombe, Maspero, 1962.
The Algerian Revolution

worlds were juxtaposed, European and Muslim, regionally compartmenta-

lized, basically contrasted in social and economic organization.
A simplified table of property distribution will illustrate the polarization of
Number of holdings area (ha) av. area per holding
Algerian Muslims: 630,732 7,349,166 11.6
Europeans: 22,037 2,726,700 120
In reality, these averages hide more acute differentials. The vast majority of
Algerian Muslim holdings (69.5 per cent) were under 10 ha, yet only ac-
counted for 18.7 per cent of Muslim land area. Conversely, a minority of
European holdings (6,385, or some 35 per cent) of over 100 ha each occupied
91 per cent of European land area. In 1953, the European colons produced
65 per cent of the gross agricultural output (including 100 per cent of alfa,
cork and beet-sugar; 93 per cent of citrus fruits; 90 per cent of wine).
European agriculture, installed in the fertile lands most suited to com-
mercial crops (870,000 acres of vineyards, citrus fruits and spring vegetables),
had developed quite simply at the expense of Muslim agriculture which it
forced back to arid and mountainous zones where even subsistence was
difficult.* The regressive effects of European implantation upon indigenous
agriculture are suggested in the following table:

Years 1863 1911 1938 1954

Population (millions) 2.2 5.6 7.2 8.8
Cereals (million ha) 2.2 — — 3.47
Cereal Production (million qls) 20–22 18.7 17.7 18.3
Yield in qls per ha 9–10 — — 5.4
Kilos of cereals per head 1000 337 231 202
Cattle (millions) — 1.1 0.79 0.86
Sheep (millions) 10 8.5 5.9 6.0

Cereal productivity per ha in European agriculture remained fairly steady at

8–9 quintals between 1885–94 and 1945–54.26
The most significant index of distanciation is found in the regional structure
of the rural economy: the disparity in property systems and methods of

* Colonel Martin at Ghardaia reported in 1922: “. . . What, for the last four years, I have
seen at Djelfa, is hardly encouraging. Every kind of bad weather, as bad as they can be, follow
in succession to annihilate whatever has been painfully planted: long icy winters, almost
without rain; from spring onwards, sirocco gales that wither and burn, belated frosts that
occasionally in the month of June—I have seen this myself—destroy the corn already in the
ear, torrential rains, and the hail which at the beginning of the summer finishes off whatever
has so far resisted . . .” (Quoted by R. Barbé, op. cit.)
Table from André Gorz, “Gaullisme et neo-colonialisme,” Temps Modernes, March 1961
—an important article to which further reference will be made. Quintennial figures of
European cereal productivity are given in R. Barbé, “La Question de la Terre”, Economie
et Politique, November 1955.
The Algerian Revolution

cultivation had arisen from an original geographical division which, as

Isnard observes, only remained incomplete due to the relative stagnation of
colonization following the crisis of 1930 and the considerable adaptability of
the vine to soil and rainfall variations. The dichotomy between the two
agrarian systems, therefore, could not be perfected, but the conventional
opposition of a “rich”, export-oriented European agriculture, established in
the fertile littoral plains and sub-littoral plateaux, confronting and dominating
a wretchedly poor indigenous agriculture, mainly autosubsistent (60 per cent
of product in 1953–4), desperately attempting to maintain traditional
extensive cereal-livestock cultivation patterns on wooded mountains and
upland plateaux, has a schematic truth borne out by an examination of the
cartographic representation showing European holdings by density of
Two comments should illuminate this map. It is true that the funda-
mental geographical division of Algeria is from north to south, from Tell to
Sahara. Crudely, there is a triple segmentation by climatological zones—the
moist littoral; the central regions a of the southern Tell and the steppic peri-
phery of the High Plateaux; and finally the desert interior. The dense European
occupation of the immediate littoral and sub-littoral zone accords with this
spectrum of geographical privilege. But a glance at the map reveals a second
axis of disposition, from East to West. Here too topographical and clima-
tological variations are registered in a considerable polarization of agrarian
systems, confirmed in the following table for the Departments of Constantine
(the East) and Oran (the West):27
Constantine Oran

% of total of Muslim holdings 37.0 15.9
Muslim % of area of Muslim holdings 46.2 22.2
Agriculture % of area of combined European 80.7 54.5
and Muslim holdings

%of total of European holdings 17.0 42.6
European % of area of European holdings 29.7 49.7
Agriculture % of area of combined European 19.3 45.5
and Muslim holdings
Eastern Algeria, more humid and mountainous with a more extended semi-
continental hinterland, is thus left predominantly to the indigenous agri-
culturalists; the west, with its far deeper plains and corridors, is par excellence
the European zone, given over to the vine, citrus fruits and market-garden
produce. In Oranie were clustered almost half of all European holdings.
The European avoidance of mountains and arid plains obeyed the simple
logic of easy profitability. The concentration in the Sahelian plains and in the
Department of Oran was historically linked with the installation of the vine as
a dominant crop; as viticulture advanced, so the regional structuration was

Taken from Hildebert Isnard, “Structures De l’Agriculture Musulmane en Algérie à La
Veille de l’Insurrection”, Mediterranée, Oct-Dec, 1960.

more fully realized. The vineyards attained their maximal extent in 1929
(approximately 400,000 ha), after which a statutory limitation was imposed in
the period of contraction that followed.
The vine dominated colonial Algeria not merely economically but also
politically and psychologically. The extraordinary affective significance of
North African viticulture was partially formulated by Jules Ferry as early as
Colonial viticulture is a project of estrangement of the indigène. “The
colonizing genius is made up in large part of audacity and self-confidence;
an extra measure is required by those intrepid winegrowers who, despite
the blows of usury and phylloxera, push inexorably forward, wherever
there is arable land and roads, to establish those long rows of green
shoots, almost as though they were anxious to consecrate, with the most
French of crops, the definitive peaceful appropriation of the African soil in
the name of France”.

Tentacular in their roots and incompatible with intercalary cultivation, the

serried vines were the visible assertions of an alien appropriation and utiliza-
tion of the soil. A dubious “foodcrop”, culturally repugnant to the Algerian
muslims, wine accounted for 35 per cent gross vegetable product and
50 per cent of Algerian exports to France. Of a total production of 17–20
million hectolitres, only 1–2 were consumed in Algeria itself.
The economic tyranny of the vine is to be located not so much in the
absolute withdrawal of land from alternative productive use as in the aberrant
social and economic organization to which, in colonial conditions, it gave
rise. Evidently, every crop imposes certain technical and agronomic limita-
tions upon its cultivators, but it does not itself determine the particular mode
of production. This always remains a human, not a natural, responsibility.
Algerian viticulture does not reveal “the inhuman dictates” of the vine; it was
the creation of the colons.
There are two technical factors in viticulture which bear upon (naturally,
they do not determine) the social and economic organization of production.
The first is the rather low average labour requirement of a hectare of vines—
50 days per annum (and on the larger, mechanized domaines this falls to 40).
But this labour is highly concentrated, above all in September for the grape-
picking and in December for pruning: these periods of intensive work
punctuate an agricultural year which came to be divided in Algeria into the
despairing categories of grand and petit chomage. The second is the
considerable capital cost prior to commercialization, for pressing cellars, vats
and similar equipment. Only the larger colons could afford this cost, and once
having installed the plant were well placed to exercise domination over the
smaller farmers who needed to hire it at the decisive moment of the harvest.
In Algeria this led to the development of co-operative associations dominated
by the big vinegrowers, and to a symbiotic connection between the wine-
growing industry and the Bank of Algeria.
The Algerian Revolution

There developed a colonial viticultural system which was characterized by

domanial exploitations, with a high degree of concentration and gradual but
uncompleted elimination of small “peasant” producers (thus by 1953 the
average size of European vineyards in Algeria was just over 22 ha; in France
the figure was 0.85 ha); and most significantly by massive reliance on Muslim
seasonal and occasional labour. The wine-growing arrondissement of
Aïn-Temouchent, studied by Launay, provides a model of the rural social
structure in the Tell. Out of a total active population of circa 23,000–
30,000 (according to census and social security figures) there were:
7,000–8,000 “permanent” workers @ 250 days or more per year
(including 1,300 tractor drivers)
22,000 seasonal or day-workers @ less than 100 days per year.
The 1954 census showed Muslim agiriculturalists as follows:
108,000 permanent workers
77,100 seasonal workers
357,500 day workers
1,438,300 family labour
Thus, the vine doubly failed the Algerian Muslim: it neither nourished him
nor provided him with steady work.
This system is explained by it profitability. Per hectare profits were
remarkable as Launay’s careful calculations reveal. Basing himself both on
Isnard’s figures and on original investigation in 1959–60, Launay concluded
generously, “One hectare of vines beings 2,500 to 3,500 francs net profit to its
European owner, and 350 francs to the workers who cultivate it; the other
costs are: 200 francs tax and insurance, 300 francs for amortization of trees
and equipment, and 150 francs for other running costs; thus, making a total
of 1,000 francs costs against a gross income of 3,500 to 4,500 francs”.28
With 50 ha a man need work no more.
There was no vine monoculture properly speaking, even in the heart of
Oranie (where 40 per cent of Algerian wine was produced). Large domaines
such as Borgeaud’s La Trappe or the Societe Anonyme de Kéroulis (Germain)
diversified their cultures; and the arrondissement of Aïn-Termouchent
possessed 60,000 ha each of vines and cereals. In all, only some 6 per cent of
cultivable surface (excluding the Sahara) was occupied by the vine. But the
vine lobby represented an outstandingly rich and powerfully-organized
interest. The outright political preponderance of viticulture was checked only
by two alternative sources of wealth in Algeria—alfagrass, a monopolistic
concession controlled by M. Blachette, and transport, the base of Schiaffino’s
fortunes. Cereals, while very important components of gross agricultural
product (37 per cent) were far less profitable to individual colons.
The political power of the grands viticulteurs (those possessing at least
100 ha), personified in Henri Borgeaud, seigneur of La Trappe, has a dual

Launay, p. 102.

significance: economic and cultural. Economically, it is related to the

consolidation and conversion of domaines into societes anonymes and
managed estates: owners, freed from the cares of farming and assured of huge
incomes, became conservative rentiers and could turn their attention to
pleasure and politics. Entrenched in the Délegations financières and the
Federation of Mayors, dominating the flow of credits through the budget, the
large wine-growers necessarily established close relations with the institutions
of finance capital; they branched out laterally into complementary and
associated branches of industry and commerce, accepted directorships in
metropolitan and Algerian insurance and shipping companies, banks, trans-
former industrial concerns etc. This interpenetration constituted an essentially
conservative form of agrarian capitalism; one which adopted bourgeois
forms to protect colonial caste-privileges. Based on the importance of wine as
an export crop, as the originating source of 50 per cent of Algerian budget
receipts, as the pole around which the whole prosperity of the Tell revolved, a
weighty bloc of wine-growers, shippers, bankers crystallized, determined to
protect its interests at all costs—in and for the metropolis as well as in
Algeria.29 This lobby defended Algerian over-production against the small
French viticulteur on the grounds of the “higher alcoholic content” of the
Algerian product, thus flooded in to “strengthen” the French wine.
The second point to remark is the exceptional, and directly political,
influence of wealth in Algeria. The colons of Algeria present the pure example
of an arriviste culture. Lacking any common social history, united only by
what could be extracted from the colonial situation, the colonate discovered
in wealth the sign and principle of its social organization. Differential
wealth established a hierarchization acceptable to all; neither purely aristo-
cratic nor properly bourgeois, the cultural “values” of the Europeans of
Algeria were crassly materialistic. The “leaders” of the pieds noirs were
(except in moments of crisis—Max Regis during the Dreyfus Affair, and
later, Pierre Lagaillarde) the magnates of the land and the profiteers of
commerce and transport: Borgeaud, proprietor of La Trappe; Blachette, the
alfa monopolist; Schiaffino, the shipping king. What is most revealing, these
millionaires of colonial exploitation themselves directly intervened in politics,
as senators, deputies and counsellors in the French and, later, Algerian
Assemblies, to defend their interests and to act as a colonial lobby. They did
not invest their huge profits in an industrialization which would transform
Algeria; they invested in politics to maintain the status quo.
Algeria, therefore, was a classic instance of a “colonial agrarian capitalism”,
a system of exploitation of a domanial or plantation type, based on a small
nuclear labour-force of “permanent” wage-workers reinforced by massive
short-seasonal intake of reserve labour when required—European agriculture

29 Useful material on the composition and mechanisms of the “colonial lobby” will be

found in Claude Bourdet, “Les Maitres de l’Afrique du Nord”, Temps Modernes, Dec.
1952; Pierre Rondiere, “Le Lobby en Action”, Nouvelle Critique, Dec. 1955; and the special
number of Economie et Politique, 1956 on “La France et Les Trusts”.
The Algerian Revolution

used 120,000 permanent workers plus 21 million work-days from occasional

labour. “Capitalistic” in its institutional and juridical forms and in its
technical apparatus, the system made use of archaic methods of labour
organization and in the opinion of most agronomists pillaged the land.
Politically activist, the overwhelming economic characteristic of this “capi-
talist” class was its lack of dynamism, confirmed by all observers. René
Gendarme was groping towards a characterization of the economic role of
the enriched colon when he spoke of the “peasant” mentality of the colon, of
his fixed hostility to any further transformation either of the rural scene or of
the economy in general: “He tends to abandon the land, to put it in the
hands of Muslim metayers or a Spanish overseer, and to go to the town to
live the life of a city dweller; he in no way wishes to sell his land and trans-
form it into another form of (industrial) capital.” Thus, in 1954, 60 per cent of
total investment had to be furnished by the State; while 40 per cent of
Algerian private capital savings fled regularly across the Mediterranean to
Variously characterized as “feudal”, “oligarchic”, “capitalist”, the
agrarian colonate developed its specific and confusing forms in accordance
with its origins and its situation. Historically, there had been in Algeria no
post-industrial “invasion” and rationalization of the countryside from urban
bases; rather, an originally backward peasantry (recruited from notably
depressed zones of Italy, France, Corsica and Spain) had evolved through a
process of concentration and differentiation into a class of quick-profit “cap-
tialist” farmers or rentiers reposing upon the substratum of petits colons,
those who had not risen in the social and economic scale. This evolution had
proceeded without concurrent industrialization and the associated “rational-
ization” of the rural economy (concentration, pyramidal integration,
mechanization, technical improvement, modernization of the work-force)
was severely limited by colonial conditions and assumptions. The colonate, it
could be argued, had never been truly entrepreuneurial (“we built this
country up from nothing”): the real risks had been incurred by the state.
This feature of the settlement—with its implications for the psychology of the
colon—had been noted as early as 1900, the heyday of colonization, by the
administrator De Peyerimhoff:
“Perhaps the methods adopted to attract and to hold him (the settler) were
not without influence on his social and political instincts. Directly or not his
property was conceded to him, for nothing, by the State, or else he has
constantly seen his neighbours receiving such concessions: before his eyes,
the government has been making on behalf of individual interests sacrifices
far greater than those it would make in countries which have been developed
fully over a long period of time. He easily comes to believe that this generosity
is the State’s duty and that he personally has a right to such favours; he thus
expects much of the administration; he has an inclination to ask too much of
it; all this leads to an unwelcome diminution of his personal initiative. It
seems also that this has, in his eyes, conferred a dangerous importance on

all aspects of political influence and could lead him sooner or later to the
conquest of political power”.30
But it was the colonial situation of the European rural economy that
ultimately explains its conservatism and its political weight. Colonial eco-
nomic structures perpetuated and “froze” agrarian preponderance; while the
social degradation of the indigènes inhibited internal organized combativity.
Economic “assimilation”—the customs union, the monopole du pavillon, the
absence of any restriction on the flow of capital to France—had discouraged
Algerian industrialization. The export orientation of European agriculture
(105 out of a total 190 milliards agricultural product in 1953) both revealed and
reinforced a disinterest in the expansion of the internal market; aimed at
France, European export-production assured the colons of a steady return
flow of French manufactures and luxury commodities. The system once in
place became its own justification. The existence of the wretched mass of
poverty-stricken fellahs, unemployed and sub-proletariat was invoked by big
colons and French trusts alike as an argument for changing nothing. The
large colons claimed to fear the inevitable rise in agrarian salaries consequent
on industrial implantation; French industry was apprehensive about and
actively sabotaged, the creation of possibly threatening subsidiaries in a
cheap labour zone.31 This convergence was the base of the colonial lobby’s
interest in the status quo; it could only be confronted by a politically de-
termined metropolitan government acting in changing economic conditions.
The Third Republic entirely lacked any developmental perspective for
Algeria, as the structural surplus of the Algerian budget demonstrated. Even
in 1944 the Director of Algerian economic affairs stated baldly “It is not for
us to take the initiative of industrialization, which would place us as a colony
in an aggressive position vis-a-vis French industry”. Only in 1949, with the
initiation of the quadrennial Plans d’Equipement et Modernisation, did the
surplus give way to a deficit, covered by French government loans and
grants (which were in effect government subsidies to French industry). As
late as 1954, “out of a total of 96 milliards of economic investments, 47 are
consecrated to amortisation, 22 to new infrastructural investment, and only 26
milliards to new superstructural investment . . .”32
Thus, the domination of the agrarian colonate is to be seen in the basic
sectoral imbalance of the Algerian economy, which betrays the classic
colonial sectoral physiognomy marked by (i) preponderance of agriculture
over industry; (ii) hypertrophy of the tertiary sector:
Gross Domestic Product 1954
Agriculture, livestock, fishing etc 33.4%
Industry, mines, construction, works 27.4%
Transport, commerce, services 39.2%

De Peyerimhoff, Enquête sur la colonisation officielle.
For example, the famous intervention of the trust Beghin against the construction of a
sugar refinery near Afreville.
Rene Gendarme, p.40. See also F. Jeanson, La Revolution Algérienne.
The Algerian Revolution

The appendage and corollary to this “capitalist” agriculture of the colons

was a decaying traditional sector, marked by archaic techniques, low pro-
ductivity and mounting poverty. A combination of juridical, administrative
and financial discrimination emphasized and preserved this structural
subordination whose perfect expression was the desperate search for casual
employment on European domains or outright exodus to the towns. Be-
tween 1930–54, the number of Muslim proprietors fell by 20 per cent while
the number of “permanent” and casual agriculture labourers increased by
29 per cent.
The Muslim agrarian world existed not only in a different space but also a
different “time” from the European, confined by its traditional juridical
forms, its inherited methods of cultivation, above all by an appalling paucity
of means of improvement. Land was conceived not as a material but as a way
of life—desperately poor, contracting year by year, but the only way of
resisting alien intrusion and colonial de-moralization. “Camped” on the
periphery of the rich European zone, the mass of fellahs tried to maintain
traditionally extensive cultivation patterns (predominantly cereal and live-
stock) despite dwindling resources and soaring population (2.5–3 per cent per
annum). Shorter fallows, declining yields and migrant work were inevitable.
Though occupying three times the European land area, Algerian Muslims
produced only one-third of total agricultural output, and only 10 per cent and
7 per cent respectively of the lucrative wine and citrus fruits. Traditional
direct family exploitation predominated: 85.5 per cent of holdings, 71.7 per
cent of area. Main crops were corn and barley (40 per cent and 77 per cent of
Algerian total), staples in the fellahs’ inadequate diet of couscous, kessra or
A small Muslim rural elite—comprised of cereal cultivators enriched by
political collaboration (bachagas, caids, large marabouts), small viticulteurs
and jardiniers fortunately established within the European plains—did
exist, differentiated from the mass of fellahs not only by income but by their
means of valorization of the land. The larger landowners (though in fact only
4 per cent of Muslim holdings exceeded 50 ha) farmed their estates mainly
through the khammesat (literally; engagement for a fifth), a primitive form of
sharecropping whose strictly exploitative content was contained and diffused
within a complex system of reciprocal personal rights and obligations
linking landowner and dependent. In form a contractual economic relation-
ship similar to the “putting-out” system of early capitalism, the khammesat
was still primarily a relationship between men, an exploitative institution but
one whose social and affective meaning were governed by the tenacious
norms of a traditional agricultural society. These larger holdings, mostly
located in the dry interior plains, were almost pure cereal-livestock farms,
whereas the smaller holdings showed a greater tendency towards a sub-
sistence polyculture.
The collapse of traditional agriculture was aggravated by the polar dis-
crimination in infrastructural investments, in allocation of rural credits, and

in training of rural cadres, which expressed and served the separation of

European and Muslim into two exclusive worlds. Thus, the douar-commune
had neither the budgetary nor the political status of the European commune de
plein exercice, and this juridical distinction was the pivot upon which dis-
criminatory social and infrastructural spending reposed. A visible segregation
in municipal amenities ensued; a dual topography “materialized” the colonal
situation. It is true that periodic alarm was expressed over the appalling
misery of the mass of fellahs and there was talk of credits and rural ameliora-
tion. But there was never any question of “integrating” European and
“indigenous” credit facilities. The Societé Indigene de Prevoyance (SIP),
founded in 1893, enjoyed a metamorphosis of nomenclature in 1952 when its
initials became SAP, Societé Agricole de Prevoyance; this tactful concession
did not, however, lead to a unification of credit circuits or a rectification of
imbalance in the distribution of loans. The colons fervently maintained
their separate organism, CACAM. In 1946, in the first flush of post-war
reformism, the Secteurs d’Amelioration Rurale (SAR) were created.
But the achievements of these various institutions were derisory. SAP
united all possible defects: insufficient credits, inadequate and politically
corrupt administration, a disastrous fusion of antithetic functions (banker
and rural renovator).33 The small funds which were made available were
misapplied—engulfed in spectacular, demagogic projects or simply dissipated
over the widest possible number of fellahs by politically minded mayors.
The terms of loans were grotesquely unsuitable for a poverty stricken
rural sector (interest to the borrower often rising to 6–7 per cent) and the
ratio of used to unused credits is eloquent—1:1 in 1954 (2,628 millions out of
5,382). It is needless to emphasize that the beneficiaries were almost always
the richer proprietors who alone could satisfy the relevant (political and
commercial) terms. The global figures for distribution of credits among
European and Algerian Muslim rural borrowers in 1952 succinctly
summarize the argument:
Equipment loans (million Francs)
12,300 millions— 14,082 European borrowers
2,600 millions— 8,401 Muslim borrowers
200 millions— Cooperatives.
Harvest Credits
4,032 millions— 2,234 European borrowers
3 millions— 46 Muslim borrowers

Maurice Parodi, author of a study of the SAP, commented: “It is the banker’s function
which wins against that of agricultural promoter. The reason for this is simple: the director
of an SAP has banking responsibilities which are crucial in the eyes of the central authorities
(central fund of the SAP and the commisariat of the “paysannat” and SAP) . . . The director
of an SAP is thus noted, above all else, for his provident administration of funds, for the
guarantees with which he can protect himself, for his assessment, or better still, avoidance of
risks. In other words, his responsibilities as a banker are measurable, controllable, whereas
his responsibilities as a promoter of traditional agriculture are not quantifiable, and even
worse, can become the object of measures falsified by tendentious statistical representations”.
See Launay, p.233.
The Algerian Revolution

Thus, the fundamental characteristic of the Algerian colonial economy was

its binary structure: a stagnant agrarian capitalism, economically and
politically paramount, confronted a collapsing traditional agriculture,
deprived of all perspectives of improvement yet sustained by the incapacity of
“capitalist” agriculture to employ or feed its mounting population.
At once the key to the whole colonial system and its most revealing aspect,
the rural economy was in permanent explosive dis-equilibrium; the rigidity and
conservatism of the economic structures themselves were threatened by the
uncontrollable social and demographic processes which the colonial situation
inevitably catalyzed and which it was incapable of absorbing. The inflexible
commitment of the agrarian-commercial bloc to an economic organization
which condemned the “natives” to a perpetual crisis of survival marked and
defined every aspect of social reality. Dramatic and intensifying pauper-
ization, the inability of the economic system to offer any future to the mass of
Algerian fellahs, the derisory and discriminatory character of the projects of
amelioration—these created a permanent explosiveness, a developing social
and economic degradation. Opposed by a political order in which the
agrarian colonate effectively blocked any industrial solution for mounting
misery, the Algerian Muslims were driven to contest it in its entirety, to
discover in themselves a political force capable of creating a revolutionary

3. Nationalism : From Abdel Kader to the ALN

If a historical warrant were necessary to “justify” the national aspirations
of the Algerian people under colonial rule, it could be found in the remarkable
creative experiment of the Emir Abdel Kader in the 1830’s and 1840’s. For
colonial invasion, which toppled the decaying Turkish administration, was
answered by the constitution of a centralized, reforming state whose authority
was unchallenged throughout Oranie, the Algerois outside the Mitidja, and
part of the Constantinois. A profound social and economic renovation
(whose prodromes were already evident prior to 1830) offered the possibility
of an original and authentic Algerian independence founded upon a territorial
and administrative unification, the destruction of the old Algero-Turkish
feudality, a modernized army, and a considerable programme of State-
induced economic development (mines, artisanate, liberation of the rural
economy from feudal levies and restrictions etc). This experience of modern-
ization was comparable with the earlier reforms of Mohammed Ali in
Egypt but whereas Mohammed Ali could use Bonapartist methods to
overthrow the Mamelukes and reconstruct a militarily powerful, industrial-
izing Egyptian state, Abdel Kader was faced with the impossible task of
creating a modern state in the face of a colonialist France. His achievements
were considerable. Tribes and burghers, Berber notables, Arabs and the
koroughli aristocracy (mixed Algero-Turkish families) were united under
Abdel Kader in a resistance whose progressive character and creativeness

were recognized even by his adversaries: “Always more destruction! A sad

office, when one considers with how few resources that eminently remarkable
man, Abdel Kader, had created such installations.34 Only the beylik of
Constantine, where Ahmed, vassal of the Dey of Alger, backed by a largely
non-Turkish and patriotic oligarchy, conducted a creditable resistance to
the French—thus preserving some real local support—remained largely out-
side the reforming regime of Abdel Kader.
Twenty years of war brutally extirpated this possibility of a revolutionary
“national” crystallization around a renovated Algerian State. The moment of
national possibility provoked by the invasion of Sidi Ferruch and the capitu-
lation of the Ottoman Dey before the foreigner was submerged in colonial
war and total devastation. Reform within the framework of a national state
was aborted, and the social groups which had aligned themselves with
Abdel Kader—urban notables and intelligentsia, many tribes and religious
fraternities—were now systematically crushed. As the new colonial order
materialized in the colon’s farm, the colonial town, the railway line, the
mine, Algerian society was volatilized and disoriented: the horizons of
resistance contracted and clouded; “French Algeria” took on a substance and
finality expressed in the transformed physical and social panorama. As
French power was consolidated in Algeria, so national resistance declined
into fitful rural outbursts, tribal and xenophobic (for instance, Moqrani’s
revolt in 1871 was a tribal, geographically circumscribed movement whose
impulses and rationale were provided by the khouan, or brothers, of the
Rahmaniya, a religious fraternity which functioned, like the carboneria, as a
secret society), and then into mere banditry, bechara, the scourge of the out-
lying colons at the end of the nineteenth century. The unity of town and
country which had distinguished the movement of Abdel Kader was rup-
tured. The shattered urban bourgeoisie, clinging to the relics of its past
achievements in the alien milieu of the European town, hastened to condemn
the uprising of 1871. The notables of Constantine urged Admiral Gueydon,
“not to confuse them, enlightened and educated men . . . who gratefully
appreciate the protection and justice of France, with the “bedoui” or tribes-
men . . .” Rural protest, lacking any clear programme and deprived of
urban support, could be treated and came to be seen as a mere police prob-
lem. Overwhelmed and disarrayed, Algerians were now to be compelled to
define a new and properly political strategy which could both unite frag-
mented and differentially situated social groups and effectively contest the
virulent and hermetic colonial order. The conditions for such a political
struggle were only to be attained after the First World War.
In retrospect it becomes easy to confer a teleological simplicity upon the
confusion and vicissitudes of Algerian politics since the First World War. The
whole phase—with its manifold contradictions, divergent aspirations and
aborted possibilities—is thus seen as merely the “pre-history” of armed

Montagnac, Lettres d’un soldat.
The Algerian Revolution

revolution; and the actual historical experience is given the rigorous necessity
of an idea. Yet if “assimilation” had to be proved chimeric and negotiation
had to be replaced by war, it should not be forgotten that these were only the
painful results of a complex struggle, of missed chances and debilitating
divisions. It is true that we can now discern the profound meaning of the
period in a historical exhaustion of classical political solutions (whether
integrationist or nationalist) which revealed the incapacity of existing
political formations (PPA-MTLD, UDMA) to satisfy the aspirations of
which they had been the formulating agents. But the experience of men like
Ben Badis, Messali Hadj and Ferhat Abbas is distorted if seen only as the
objective and subjective preparation of the Algerian people for revolutionary
The colonial situation in Algeria was at once total in its overall trans-
formation of the context in reference to which was ordered the whole system
of social relations and values, and yet partial and differentiated in its impact.
It neither completely liquidated the past nor proposed a coherent future.
Geographically selective settlement, juxtaposition of “zones” of advanced
technology and productive method with decaying subsistence cultivation and
nomadism, differential social and psychological penetration (for example the
greater immunity of the women, symbolically withdrawn from the social
scene, the lack of European “presence”, in the mountains—Aures, Nementcha,
Djurdjura etc)—these were the phenomena of colonial incoherence in
Algeria. An abrupt but partial transformation had detonated a crisis of
disaggregation. Traditional society and its values were decomposing. New
social forces were manufactured by the colonial situation—deruralized fellahs
swarming into the towns to constitute a neo-proletariat or a diffuse sub-
proletarian mass, a dependent and parasitic petty bourgeoisie of subaltern
professional strata, commercial intermediaries, a small landowning elite.
Cultural differentiations were aggravated as religious and literacy standards
declined, while French education and techniques were correspondingly
valorized. The relative homogeneity of the Algerian people was shattered; the
picture was one of a plurality of atomized groupings, differentially situated in
terms of social role, cultural orientation and political aspiration. The future of
the nation was contained in the strategy which, taking account of these real
divisions and of the implacable hostility of the settlers to all amelioration, could
overcome them in a unifying efficacity, could discover a revolutionary praxis.
The history of Algerian political struggle from the First World War until
1954 is dominated by three motifs: the general movement of politically
conscious Algerians from “assimilationist” demands to militant nationalism;
the continual deflection and sabotage of the periodic metropolitan liberalizing
initiatives by the entrenched colonate; and the immense difficulty in these
circumstances of evolving an effective nationalist strategy. These were the “con-
stants” of Algerian political life; it now remains to define its phases and content.
Broadly, the critical turning-point in Algerian politics occurred with the
disruption and revelations caused by the Second World War. The reasons for

this qualitative transformation were multiple: the submergence of all

assimilationist hopes in the shipwreck of the Blum-Viollette project, the
revelatory moment of colonial fascism in Vichy Algeria, the opening up of
new perspectives of democratic nationalism with the Anglo-American land-
ings and the early political weakness of De Gaulle’s liberation committee. The
war situation produced a ferment of political activity and provided the
conditions for the first real united front in Algerian nationalist politics. If only
temporarily, Elus, Ulemas and Messali’s clandestine Parti du Peuple Algérien
collaborated around the programme of the 1943 “Manifesto of the Algerian
People” and its more radical “supplement”, denouncing the assimilationist
1944 Ordinance and demanding Algerian independence. There was, there-
fore, a real transformation during the war, which enables us to distinguish
between two broad phases in Algerian political history—inter-war and post-
war (L’Algérie de Statut).
Between the wars the goal of most Algerian politicians was an integration
which would confer full equality in civil and political rights without cor-
responding sacrifice of the cultural identity juridically embodied in the
“statut personnel”. Assimilation as the illusion of the epoch. Ferhat Abbas
has subsequently evoked this period with some candour: “One can under-
stand why my generation and those which preceded it persevered in calling on
republican and liberal France against colonialist and tyrannical France. They
thought that all that was necessary was to enlighten the former about the
contradictions responsible for our grievances in order for her to put an end to
them”; and he described his own position, which was typical of that
of younger French-educated commercial and semi-professional strata, follow-
ing the end of the First World War in a revealing image, “personally, I
thought that the Algerian was on the eve of another 1789: our peasants were
like the French peasants described by La Bruyère; the European, surrounded
by his arab mandarins (caids, bachagas and marabouts) was the feudal lord.
France was the King . . .”35 This quotation, as indeed Abbas’s whole political
biography, is eminently instructive in its mixture of lucidity and mystification.
In the course of the 1914–1918 War had occurred the first large-scale
collective movement of Algerians to France (to military and factory employ-
ment) and the numbers thereafter steadily rose,36 while the immediate post-
war legislation of the Clemenceau Charter widened Algerian Muslim repre-
sentation in local and communal assemblies, conseils généraux etc, creating a
qualtitatively-selected local electorate of 421,000 which could provide the
political base for emerging professional politicians claiming to represent the
interests of the people as a whole. In fact, as yet politicians and their clientèle
in Algeria were drawn from and mainly acted for the surviving pockets of
traditional bourgeoisie and notables (especially in Constantine, the home of
both Dr. Bendjelloul and Sheikh Ben Badis) and the new colonial petty

La Nuit Coloniale, p.114
36 5,000 in 1912; 100,000 in 1924; 300,000 in 1936. “L’Algérie sous le signe des Ultras”
A. P. Lentin, Cahiers Internationaux.
The Algerian Revolution

bourgeoisie (clerks, teachers, traders, professionals etc). Their relations with

the rural masses and the urbanized proletariat and semi-proletariat were
tenuous, humanitarian and romantic. Abbas for example, significantly
elides his own experience and aspirations with those of his generation: in
effect, for him the fate of the Algerian people is identified with that of his
class, the new urban petty bourgeoisie of traders, salariat, subaltern in-
tellectuals created by colonialism out of the fragments of the old artisanat and
bourgeoisie. This emergent stratum, occidentalized and assimilationist,
constituted the narrow official political “public” in Algeria until the new
legislation of the Second World War. “Assimilation”, envisaged as the
general solution of the “Algerian problem”, was in fact a real possibility only
for this group because it was in some senses already partially assimilated.
This perspective, somewhat abstract and irrelevant for urban and rural
masses, was faithfully projected in the successive programmes of the Young
Algerians and Emir Khaled, and after 1927 in those of the Federation des Elus
(led by Bentami, Dr. Bendjelloul, Boumedine, and Abbas), all of which
—parliamentary representation of indigènes proportionate to their
—equal conditions in civil and military employment and promotion;
—uncompromising application of legislation of public education;
—comparable political and judicial rights.
These demands were abstract insofar as they failed to envisage the political
and socio-economic conditions of their successful implementation in the face
of the ferocious opposition of the colons; and corporatist insofar as they
reflected and depended on the energies of a restricted urban milieu without
rural and mass backing.
The fact that the Elus could claim only a partial representativity was
conclusively demonstrated by the formation in 1926 of the Etoile Nord
Africaine, a political formation almost symbolically antithetic to the Federa-
tion des Elus. The Etoile was founded on the new metropolitan colonial
proletariat of disinherited migrants, further swollen by the expansion of the
vineyards after the war. Initially formed “in the shadow of the CP”, the
Etoile after 1927 came under the extraordinary personal domination of
Messali Hadj, an ex-soldier and worker born at Tlemcen in 1898. Maximalist
and proletarian, the Etoile under Messali put forward a socially advanced and
uncompromisingly nationalist programme:
—complete independence for Algeria;
—creation of a national army;
—agrarian reform involving confiscation and redistribution of lands,
extension of rural credits;
—full political and syndical liberties;
—national and local assemblies to be elected on universal franchise.
However, immediate weakness was apparent in Messali’s position: based in

France, the Etoile and the parties which succeeded it found it difficult to
extend their action to Algeria owing to the continuous and systematic
repression to which it was exposed by its radicalism. The Etoile was dissolved
between 1929–32, and Messali spent only one out of the next 14 years at
political liberty in Algeria; for the remainder he was in prison or in exile, yet
his political influence after the Second World War was to prove considerable.
By the end of the ’twenties, then, Algerian politics was already marked by a
basic division which, despite later programmatic mutations and periods of
frontist alliance, continued to manifest itself in various forms for the next
two decades. Two recognizable and distinct political “pedigrees” can be
followed right through to 1954: Etoile Nord Africaine-PPA-MTLD; Elus-
UPA-AML-UDMA.37 The persistence of this cleavage, which originally corre-
sponded to fundamental differences in objective, right up to the beginning of
the liberation war, is to be partly attributed to certain temperamental
antagonisms between Messali and Abbas. But it also had an objective basis in
the divergent social character and strategies of the parties. Yet in fact both
tendencies betrayed a common inability to come to terms with the in-
creasingly obvious inefficiency of legal means of struggle and a common
failure to penetrate and mobilize the countryside and so enlarge a political
clientele whose growth was tied to urbanization and French education.
However, during the 1930’s a whole series of agitations and incidents dis-
turbed the immobile density of the bled, and engulfed it in a process of
transformation which paralleled the purely political mobilization of the
urban petty bourgeoisie and overseas workers.
Observers and historians of the Maghrebine social scene between the wars
agree in according a pivotal importance to these rural movements—new
associations, agricultural trade unions, the Islamic reformism of the Ulemas—
which often generalized beneath patriotic “synonyms” and traditional
symbolism an outright political nationalism. This re-animation of local life
was naturally related to the political movements in France and in the Algerian

37 The Etoile, dissolved in 1929, remained clandestine till 1933 when Messali was imprison-

ed for reconstituting a banned association; re-emerging briefly with the Popular Front, the
Etoile was again dissolved in Jan. 1937 (by this time Messali had definitively broken with the
CP). On March 11th, 1937, the PPA was formed though this too was dissolved a little over
a year later. Its clandestine presence during the war was considerable, as its increasing in-
fluence in the “Amis du Manifeste” and the 1945 United Front demonstrated.The Constantine
uprising was the signal for further repression; Messali was deported and the party banned.
On his release in 1947, Messali established the MTLD, Mouvement pour le triomphe des
Libertés Democratiques (October 1946), as a legal front for the PPA. The PPA was never
legitimized, however, and the MTLD continued to operate, somewhat ambiguously, until
its split in 1954. The other and more respectable wing descends as follows: disoriented by
the collapse of this Blum-Viollette project the Elus fragmented—Dr. Bendjelloul, created the
Reassemblement franco-musulman algérien (July 1938), destined for a swift demise, while
Abbas formed the Union Populaire Algérienne (April 1938). Abbas was far the most dynamic
leader and during the war launched a series of memoranda defending Algerian self-deter-
mination; The “Manifeste du Peuple Algerien” was the basic document of the war years. In
1944, Abbas created the “Association des Amis du Mamifeste” in which Ulemas, Elus,
Communists and clandestine PPA members all collaborated in 1945, for a brief period in
a Nationalist Common Front. Following the Constantine insurrection, Abbas launched
UDMA, which contested the elections on a programme of association with France. Hence-
forth, we will refer to parties by their initials.
The Algerian Revolution

towns. With the profound transformation of the economy and of social

relations a new complex of filiations had grown up between town and country
—the linking movements of migrant workers; the improvement of com-
munications; the radial influence of the small bourgades and market towns
where local politics had produced new leaders with a well-meaning sympathy
for the plight of the fellahs (Ferhat Abbas, son of a fonctionnaire and caid of
peasant stock in the little town of Setif, typifies these younger politicians).
The most radical agent of this renovation was the Association of Ulemas
(formed in 1931) led by a gifted descendant of an old Constantine family,
Sheikh Ben Badis. Formerly a “non-political” religious reforming movement
with cultural and educational objectives, the Association attacked the social
and ideological root of rural torpor—the complicit and decadent tradi-
tionalism of local notables and clergy—and was “politicized” by the persecu-
tions which this assault on colonial positions in the countryside inevitably
encountered. The scale and success of this multiform cultural revolution were
remarkable; indeed the 1930’s has some claim to be considered as the decade
of the Ulemas. Attacking superstition and religious archaism in the name of
Islamic purity, the Ulemas, like the Egyptian reformist Sheikh Abdo, empha-
sized the need for purification to be accompanied by modernization. Arabic
science, letters and historiography were to be revived by the integration of
Western techniques and discoveries; funds raised from donations were
devoted to the construction of reformed koranic schools, medersas, which
could rival the decrepit official schools and provide an education for the mass
of children for whom no public education was available. By the end of the
decade 233 schools had been built, of which 137 were in the Constantine
department. There was a proliferation of associations and societies inspired by
the Ulemas;38 and the Association campaigned for the separation of church
and state—i.e. for the return of the habous and the abolition of administrative
interference in ecclesiastical life and appointments. This programme, rationa-
list and patriotic, provided a cultural substratum for Algerian nationalism;
the Ulemas fostered a sense of Algerian specificity when most politicians were
still appealing to the “universal” values of Europe (the significant exception
was Messali who after coming under the influence of Chekib Arslan in
Switzerland during 1936 moved stendily towards a similar Islamic nationalism).
In the words of Jacques Berque, the Ulemas effected a shift “de l’Islam refuge
a l’Islam jacobin”. The nationalist content of the movement was summed up
in Tewfiq al-Madani’s celebrated slogan, taught in the medersas: “L’Islam est
ma religion; l’arabe est ma langue; l’Algerie est ma patrie”. Launay, in-
vestigating in Oranie where the Ulemas had been least active, was able to
note the correlation between “nationalist” douars and those where reformist
medersas had been established.39 Thus, political nationalism and religious
reformism converged.

Berque, p.283
Launay, p.148.

Undoubtedly, the summative experience of the inter-war period is to be

found in the fate of the Blum-Viollette project and the defeat of the Popular
Front in Algeria. Here were united all the dominant themes of Algerian
political life. Great hopes had been aroused in Algeria by the results of the
1936 elections for the Popular Front, in which Ech Chiheb—echoing Abbas’
conception—saw the “triumph of the principles of the French Revolution
over the forces of reaction”. On June 7th, 1936 in the Salle du Majestic,
Bab-el-Oued, the first Algerian Muslim Congress was opened in an at-
mosphere recalling that of the Estates General of 1789. Elus, Ulemas and
communists jointly participated in the drating of a “Charter of the Algerian
Muslims”; Messali’s Etoile, unremittingly hostile to “assimilation” and
uninvited to the proceedings, was not represented. The Charter demanded
total integration, the suppression of all special institutions, separation of
church and state, but also the retention of the statut personnel. A delegation
visited Paris to impress these demands on Leon Blum. At the end of the
year the government produced a “project” aiming to extend French citizen-
ship to a qualified Algerian elite “without any modification of their status or
civil rights”: this draft law, considered revolutionary at the time, would have
enfranchized some 20,000 Algerian Muslims.
The ensuing sequence of events decisively discredited the “assimilationist”
solution as utopian, revealed the real power and virulence of the colonial
bloc and, finally, led to the demise of the Popular Front. The Blum govern-
ment, pathetically anxious to preserve bourgeois democratic forms, decided
to present the project to parliament rather than execute it as a decree. It thus
allowed time for the colonial machine (press campaigns in France and
Algeria, metropolitan parliamentary lobbying, assiduous work on directorial
boards, provocations in Algeria) to move into action. The combined oppo-
sition of the colonate and the French right (including large sections of the
radicals, the “dubious” partner in the Front) effectively prevented any
parliamentary examination of the project throughout 1937. Algerian Mus-
lims became increasingly apprehensive and a second Congress held in July
instructed all élus to resign from their Delegations and councils if the project
was unpromulgated at the end of the year; incidents multiplied;40 the colons
called for strict repressive measures. Eventually, in September 1938, after
Daladier had replaced Blum and systematic repression of nationalist move-
ments throughout north Africa had once again been initiated, the project was
dismissed by the Senate.

40 There had been mounting social unrest, which combined with political demonstrations,

since the summer of 1936: at the end of June, there were over 10,000 strikers in Algeria;
armed bands roamed the countryside, arresting motorists and invading properties. Inter-
estingly, the Congress in October condemned “the agitation which is continuing and ex-
tending throughout the country to the detriment of social order and public tranquillity” and
denounced “appeals to Muslims tending to organize them into illegal groups, to the great
damage of the unity of Muslim Algerians”. In February and March 1937, renewed agitation
broke out—strikes, demonstrations, banditry, fights with the gendarmerie. Nouschi, La
Naissance du Nationalisme Algérien (Ed. de Minuit, 1962), pp. 88–92; Berque, p.286.
The Algerian Revolution

The lessons of this experience were multiple. The first was the total com-
plicity and fusion of the administration in Algeria with the colonial lobby, the
“préponderants” of the existing order (large colons, banks, concessionary
companies). As Andre Nouschi remarks, “any French government inspired
with reformist intentions had no chance of putting through a liberal pro-
gramme unless it decided at the same time both to effect a vigorous and
complete overhaul of the administration, from top to bottom, and also to
implement a drastic reorientation of the Algerian press”.41 As it was, settlers
and officials (largely recruited locally) acted as one: the Federation des maires
et adjoints speciaux d’Algerie, meeting on February 8th, 1938, voted by 298
votes to two for unanimous resignation and paralysis of the administration if
the project came up for discussion in the metropolitan assembly. Secondly,
the effectiveness of this homogeneous, irreconcilable resistance to any—even
the most timid—metropolitan reforms, was a political education in itself, a
crucial demystification for Algerian politicians who henceforth would find it
less and less possible to “recourir a la France liberale”. Messali alone had
consistently opposed the project; even Sheikh Ben Badis, who before the 1936
elections had replied to Abbas’s famous assimilationist statement (“I shall
not die for the Algerian nation because this nation does not exist”) with an
article upholding Algeria’s historic and cultural claims to national inde-
pendence, had invested real hopes in Leon Blum. On his return from Paris
with the delegation of the Congress, Ben Badis wrote, “we did not go to
France to demand Algerian independence, because our first task was to
liberate our minds and emancipate them from maraboutism”. The disclosure
of the power realities, the weakness of the metropolitan government when
confronted by an alliance of the largely self-governing colonate with the
French Right in defence of colonial capitalism, inevitably led towards a
radicalization of demands. Disillusion and bitterness was extreme among
francophile Algerian politicians, though not all of them immediately turned
to the outright nationalism of Messali. In April 1938, Abbas launched the
UPA aiming to regroup élus and popular forces behind a somewhat con-
fused and vague integrationist programme. But the logic was irresistible, as
Violette had foreseen in 1935: ‘Take care, the natives of Algeria, and
through your own fault, still have no country; they are looking for one. They
ask us to let them enter the French nation. Let them do so swiftly, for
otherwise they will create their own “. Messali, though imprisoned, gained in
credit from the defeat of the assimilationists. During 1938, his new nationalist
party, the PPA, made considerable headway in Algeria: in November 1938,
M. Boumendjel, a PPA candidate, was elected a municipal counsellor in
Algiers, while the following April a PPA tramway employee named Douar was
elected a conseiller general. Both workers and intellectuals began to gravitate
towards the party. This movement was cut brutally short: on September
26th, 1939, the PPA was dissolved by administrative decree.

Nouschi, p.79

Between 1937–41, the Algerian French moved towards openly pro-fascist

positions. The pieds noirs, emboldened by the defeat of the “jewish” Leon
Blum and his lieutenant, “Viollette Larbi” (Viollette the arab), provided a
congenial political terrain for the parties of the ultra-right: Jacques Doriot’s
PPF and Colonel de la Rocque’s PSF (formed out of the former Croix de
Feu). The PPF’s inaugural Congress, just as later that of Poujade’s UDCA,
was held at Algiers.This fascist penetration was facilitated by the heterogeneous
origins of the European population of Algeria: the “neo-Francais” of
Spanish and Italian extraction, arriviste and culturally backward, were
intensely susceptible to the prestige of Franco and Mussolini, the avatars of a
new order in which the underprivileged and the uncultured seemed at last to
assume power. Doriot’s fief was in Oranie, home of a substantial Spanish
minority, while Colonel de la Rocque relied on the Italians and Corsicans of
Constantine. The Andalusian melodies broadcast by radio Seville took on a
new poignancy as the European of Algeria, for the first time, dreamt over
their anisette of “restoring” and purifying metropolitan France: “Thousands
of Frenchmen”, cried Gabriel Lambert, mayor of Oran, “want to make
France without further delay into the likeness of the new Spain of today”.
What must be emphasized, however, is the structural significance of this
popular fascist orientation, fully revealed in the willing collaboration of
almost the whole of the European population of Vichy Algeria with the Axis
powers. It was not a phenomenon confined to the ex-Spanish and ex-Italian or
ex-Sicilian lumpen colonate; it also involved the “leaders” of the European
community, big colons and shippers, press magnates and senior Algerian
administrators. It was in fact a classical fascist configuration, occurring in a
colonial context.42 The “threat” of a Popular-Front/Algerian Muslim alliance
to colonial capitalism and the signs of social combativity among Algerian
workers and peasantry encouraged the agrarian-commercial bourgeoisie to
finance and preside over the political and para-military sections (Legion
Francaise des Combattants, Compagnons de France, Chantiers de Jeunesse) of
the urbanized small white ultras (over 700,000 Europeans now lived in the
towns) who could protect their interests. Thus Schiaffino and Amedée
Froger became licensed agents for the profitable trade with Hitler’s Germany,
while Alain de Serigny attacked Bolshevism and democratic capitalism in the
Echo d’ Alger. The special cultural and political conditions of colonial
Algeria predisposed the majority of Europeans to collaboration. Liberal,
republican and democratic notions had never seriously penetrated the
European masses whose own political traditions and new privileges were
antipathetic to egalitarian measures. A pathological racism was common-
place: the ignorant and vulgar anti-semitism which had been a constant in
collective consciousness since the Dreyfus affair and which was personified in
“Cagayous antijuif ”, the fictional folk-hero of the lumpen colonate, could
now find its full expression and systematization. The French of Algeria

See Q. Hoare’s discussion “What is Fascism?”, NLR 20.
The Algerian Revolution

“inclined before” the defeat of France. The meaning of this genuflection was
swiftly clarified. The famous decret Cremieux of 1870 granting French
citizenship to Algerian jews was annulled in October 1940 and a discriminatory
“numerus clausus” (2.7 per cent) imposed on jewish school children and
students. This regressive measure did not arouse the expected enthusiasm
among Muslims. “They thought that the muslims would rejoice at the
abrogation of the Cremieux decree”, wrote Boumendjel in 1942, “when what
we were in fact able to observe was simply that a citizenship that could be
revoked after 70 years was still open to question at the whim of those who had
bestowed it”. Despite certain overtures, Messali, Abbas, Bendjelloul, all
refused to collaborate. The colonate was irreparably discredited.
It was with the defeat of Vichy in North Africa that nationalist politics in
Algeria really began. After the Anglo-American landings (November 1942)
there was a year of extraordinary social and political fluidity before De
Gaulle and Catroux succeeded in decisively consolidating the authority of the
CFLN. Educated by the sabotage of the Blum-Viollette project and the
fascism of the colonate, encouraged by the democratic anti-fascist propaganda
of the allies (in particular the Atlantic Charter), Muslim leaders and poli-
ticians entered on a phase of intense political activity in which they hoped to
exploit their temporary advantages (the 12 Algerian divisions needed for the
war effort; the absence of an effective constituted power in Algiers). In
February 1943 Ferhat Abbas drafted his Manifeste de Peuple Algerien:
L’Algérie devant le conflit mondial, a text signed by some 50 élus and notables,
in which—though cautiously veiled—the right of self-determination was
posed, along with more familiar and specific demands: freedom of worship
and separation of church and state; freedom of press and association;
universal civic and political liberties; agrarian reform; recognition of arabic
as an official language. In April the Governor-General set up a Commission
d ’Etudes economiques et sociales, whose prolix and fruitless considerations
provoked a more precise and radical “additif ” or supplement (anonymous) to
the original Manifesto (May 26th, 1943). The supplement openly requested
“recognition of the political autonomy of Algeria as a sovereign nation, with
a right of surveillance for France, and military assistance from the allies in
case of conflict”. A turning point had been reached. Ferhat Abbas, along with
many élus, now espoused the idea of an Algerian nation which he had dis-
missed as chimeric in 1936. With Messali’s clandestine PPA and the Ulemas,
Abbas and his supporters would now insist on the Manifesto as a minimum
programme. Further, a common front was possible.
The political distance that had been traversed since 1936 was fully revealed
in the activity of the next two years. For the first time there was an almost
unanimous rejection of “assimilationist” concessions as both anti-nationalist
and anti-democratic. For the first time political differences and rivalries
expressed themselves within a common organization, the loose nationalist
front of the AML, united at least in its broad allegiance to the principles of
the Manifesto and its supplement.

General Catroux, De Gaulle’s nominee as Governor of Algeria, had

reacted with soldierly vigour to the publication of the “Additif ” and the
increasing radicalism of the Muslim élus (the Muslim section of the Delega-
tions financières met on September 22nd, 1943 to demand “quality of repre-
sentation in the deliberative assemblies”). On September 23rd the Muslim
section of the Delegations was dissolved, and its president, Sayah Abdel
Kader, and Ferhat Abbas were sent into forced residence until December.
Some élus, Bendjelloul at their head, hastened to apologize for their in-
discretion; and on November 9th General de Gaulle promised structural
reforms in an important speech at Constantine. A “mixed commission” was
set up to draft the new legislation which was promulgated in the Ordinance of
March 7th, 1944. Neither ulemas nor progressive élus, however, were asso-
ciates in the preparation of the Ordinance (the muslim component of the
Commission consisted of Bendjelloul, Tamzali, Fondil, Cadi Abdel Kader
and Ben Gaha). In effect while De Gaulle succeeded during the exceptional
wartime conditions in passing (indeed enlarging) the measure of assimilation
that had brought down Leon Blum, this had already lost the support of the
most influential and representative Algerian leaders. The Ordinance defined
principles of citizenship and political participation, whose application was to
be determined by the future Constituent Assembly: approximately 50–
60,000 Algerian Muslims (holders of university degrees, elective political
office, military and other types of decoration etc) were to receive French
citizenship; while overall Muslim representation in all local assemblies was
increased to two-fifths.
Abbas, freshly returned from rustication at the end of the year, was well
placed to assume a leading role in co-ordinating nationalist resistance:
Messali was still under surveillance at Reibell and his PPA banned; while it
was widely known that the original Manifesto had been largely Abbas’s work.
A week after the promulgation of the Ordinance Abbas launched the Amis de
la Manifeste et de la Liberté, with the tactical support of the Ulemas, the
clandestine PPA, évolués and, a little later, of the communists. The declared
objective of the AML was to “publicize the idea of an Algerian nation and to
promote the creation in Algeria of an autonomous republic federally linked to
a renovated, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist French republic”. The AML
syncretized and fought for elements of the programmes of the Ulemas, the
PPA, the élus and the communists. In September Egalité, the AML’s weekly
organ, appeared. Over 500,000 membership applications were received at the
offices of the AML Central Committee.43 From late 1944 onwards there was a
radical politization of large sections of Algerian society, more especially of
the youth—Muslim boy scouts, lycéens, pupils at the reformist medersas,
soldiers, young migrant workers. At a moment when French authority was
very fragile, there was an explosion of Algerian nationalism and an apparent
unification of hitherto disparate fractions into an irresistible united force.

43 Abbas, op. cit. p. 152.

The Algerian Revolution

Two years later, this unity had been decisively fractured; French authority
—and the influence of the unregenerate colonate—had been re-imposed; and
Algerian nationalism constricted within a new constitutional framework
which was to survive, discredited and hollow, until the war of liberation.
This process of demobilization and fragmentation once again illustrates the
fundamental mechanisms of colonialism in Algeria, and the inadequacy of
all constituted political groupings in face of them. It inaugurated the final,
authentically “pre-revolutionary”, phase of Algerian political history—the
phase of the “Statut” from 1947–54.
How was the “unity” of the AML, and of the Nationalist Common
Front established in February 1945, so quickly dissolved? In the first place,
there were subjective failings. There seems little doubt that few of the re-
sponsible leaders took seriously the primordial necessity for nationalist
unity in confronting the French. The clandestine PPA entered the AML
chiefly because it provided a legal cloak for its continuing activity and
proselytization. The mass support of the PPA was demonstrated at the
Congress of the AML held in March 1945. The Congress was dominated by
PPA supporters who passed resolutions demanding an Algerian parliament
and the release of Messali and rejecting Abbas’s federalist theses. Yet
despite this promising sitation, when Messali was released a little over a year
later there seem to have been no overtures to Abbas and the Ulemas to
reconstruct the Front. A new successor party to the PPA, the MTLD, was
instantly set up to contest the elections to the French Assembly. The Com-
munists, too, had joined with the AML only for tactical reasons: they did not
conceal their opposition to national independence for Algeria, and hoped to
struggle against outright nationalists inside the AML. Secondly although the
AML—and the Nationalist Common Front of 1945—certainly achieved a
greater organizational coherence than had been attained by the Muslim
Congress of 1936 (thus, a six member central committee was created for the
Common Front, two each from Elus, Ulemas and PPA), it still lacked any
effective political discipline. Unity depended on the conjuncture.
More important, however, was the evolution of objective circumstances,
and the way in which the leadership disintegrated before the sequence of
repression and reforms which ensued over the next two years. By early 1945,
a revolutionary situation existed in Algeria: the political agitation generated
by the AML was escaping its control. An acute economic crisis, detonated by
the notably bad harvest of the previous year, had developed out of the
departure of large numbers of troops (essential to the feverish rhythm of the
wartime economy) at a time when the effects of longterm inflation were
making themselves felt (there had been a 665 per cent increase in fiduciary
circulation since 1939). Large-scale demonstrations of unemployed and
starving men took place in many parts of the country; fights with the police
were frequent and anti-French feeling was at a peak. Abbas and the pro-
gressive élus grew increasingly apprehensive as the social situation became
more volatile and inflammatory. In May Algeria was shaken by an uprising

whose dimensions and violence were unparalleled since 1871.

The dialetic of discontent and provocation produced a first series of
incidents on May Day, when licensed CGT demonstrations in Algiers, Bone,
Oran, Bougie and several towns in the Constantinois were transformed into
PPA nationalist demonstrations brandishing flags and demanding the
liberation of Messali. But it was a week later, on the occasion of armistice
celebrations, that the real weight behind the nationalist impulse (and more
particularly the mass support for the PPA, or at least for Messali) was fully
revealed. The green and white flag of Abdel Kader and banners demanding
Messali’s release appeared in almost every large town in the country. In
Setif, Abbas’s home town, a commissioner of police snatched the national
colours from a demonstrator in front of the hotel de ville; firing broke out
from the police; the crowd ran wild, pursuing Europeans and breaking
windows. By the end of the day 21 Europeans had been killed. This was the
signal for insurrection throughout the north Constantinois—especially the
mountainous region between Setif and the sea, and the urban centres of
Bone, Guelma, Constantine, Batna, Collo, and Biskra became dangerous for
Europeans. For two days the whole area was out of military and administra-
tive control: there was a general regroupment of isolated and exposed
settlers to safer zones. Then the situation was recovered; pitiless repression
followed, reminiscent of the first “pacification”, except for its technically
superior means. It took over a fortnight to subdue the bands who took to the
mountains near Guelma, Setif, Saida (Sud-Oranais) and Haussonvilliers
(Grand Kabylie). Mechtas were machine-gunned by low flying aircraft; the
coast was shelled by the cruiser Duguay-Trouin. Official and unofficial
reprisals were savage. While 100 Europeans were killed, estimates of Muslim
deaths vary between the official under-estimate of 1,500 and the nationalist
figure of 45,000.
It is in fact more or less impossible to quantify the death roll or to assign
the local responsibilities in the outbreak. The Commission of Enquiry,
presided over by General Tubert, was hastily dissolved by General de Gaulle
within 48 hours of being set up. However, its larger significance is clearer to
discern. The uprising was, in effect, an abortive nationalist insurrection.
The scale, intensity and duration of the outbreak differentiate it from a
simple contagious movement of social demands. But—whether or not the
PPA’s secret Forces Arabes de l’Interieur (FAI) modelled on the FFI of the
French resistance were involved in extending the action—the rising was
poorly organized and ill-controlled. What is most likely is an attempt was
made to canalize and coordinate what were initially spontaneous and
partially xenophobic outbursts. A second aspect is important to note. The
uprising played a crucial role in the moral and political reinstatement of the
colonate; it enabled colons an local administrators to substitute in the
eyes of the metropolis the menacing nationalist present for their own fascist
past. There is some evidence of active local European complicity and provoca-
tion in the Setif events; and certainly the Europeans of Algeria used the
The Algerian Revolution

outbreak to reorganize “militias” which took a prominent part in summary

execution of suspected Muslims, and also to re-assert their familiar demands
with renewed confidence. “We have had enough”, stated a document cir-
culated in the offices of the Gouvernement General, “French public opinion
demands the summary execution of the ringleaders, and Ferhat Abbas first of
all; the recall of the governor-general; the nomination of a civil governor of
Algerian origin, equipped with the necessary powers to implement an
energetic and just policy. French sovereignty is in jeopardy”. L’Echo d’Alger
summarized colon opinion: Pour l’Afrique du Nord, c’est l’heure de gendarme.
The savagery of the repression, while it confirmed the PPA in its un-
remitting hostility to any association with or reliance on France, traumatized
many moderate leaders. Abbas, especially, was profoundly shaken by the
incidents in which he had taken no part (he only learnt of the scale of the
uprising and subsequent repression while awaiting trial). Later, his first
response to the CRUA militants who contacted him in 1954 was to caution
them against provoking any repetition of the massacres of 1945. It was this
experience which created the dilemma of many nationalists who, though
quite aware of the impasse of legal politics between 1948–54, were unable to
devise any alternative strategy because they would not consider violence as a
More immediately, the political setback was considerable. Many thousands
of militants were killed, imprisoned (military tribunals pronounced nearly
7,000 convictions) or “disappeared”; the AML was dissolved; Abbas
arrested and put in prison until March 1946. Messali had already been
despatched to Equatorial Africa before the uprising took place.
Setif was the brutal termination of the brief moment of dialogue and
optimism that had begun in 1943. The naive confidence with which Abbas
had greeted the “France issued from the Resistance” was dispelled by the
resurrection of the colonial bloc and the evident integrationist intentions of
the new Republic. Messali, who had warned him that “France will give you
nothing voluntarily. It will yield only to force and will give up only what can
be extracted by pressure”, was once again vindicated in his assessment. Le
Tourneau talks of the cassure profonde between Muslims and Europeans
after May 1945. This was the context in which the long awaited reform of
Algeria’s constitutional position was prepared and enacted.
The institutional basis of the new post-war political arrangements was
established by the Ordinance of August 17th, 1945, organizing the population
of Algeria into two electoral colleges; the upper college comprising French
citizens and the Muslim beneficiaries of the Ordinance of 1944, the lower
college grouping adult male Muslim non-citizens. Each college was entitled
to return the same number of deputies to the Constituent Assembly. The
registered electorate for the elections to the First Constituent Assembly
(October 1945) was:
Upper college: 513,000
Lower college: 1,345,130.

With this measure, the final satisfaction of one of the demands made by
Emir Khaled in 1920, there opened an era of futile electoral politics which
achieved little beyond the perfection of the machinery of surveillance and
sabotage by the colonial administration. Since Abbas and Messali were both
deprived of political rights, the PPA and AML recommended abstention in
the elections to the first Constituent Assembly. Nevertheless, 705,000 out of
1,350,000 lower college voters participated: the “assimilationist” parties
(Dr. Bendjelloul’s group of élus, the SFLO and the PCA) shared the lower
college seats between them. However, this result was manifestly artificial and
it was only with the amnesty and re-entry into political life of Abbas (March
1946) and Messali (September 1946) that the political climate really changed.
For the first time, avowed nationalist parties—UDMA, founded by Abbas in
April, and Messali’s MTLD, established in October to replace PPA—could
contest elections, openly organize and propagandize on behalf of their
programmes. The limitations of this formal right were soon to be exposed.
The second Constituent Assembly, elected in June 1946 with 11 of the 13
lower college seats going to UDMA (at this time Messali was still banned, and
abstentions—or concealed PPA votes—exceeded votes cast by 700,000–
633,000), revealed by its unwillingness to confront the problems involved in
modifying Algeria’s constitutional regime, the absence of any seriously
reformist ambitions. Abbas’s project for an autonomous Algerian republic
associated with France as a federal member of the French Union was not even
discussed. Instead, the Assembly submitted to France and the Empire a
constitutional draft in which Algeria retained its former position pending
preparation of a special statute.
Adopted by referendum, the new constitution necessitated further elections
for the first National Assembly of the Fourth Republic. Under the con-
stitution Algerian representation in metropolitan institutions (retaining its
collegiate parity) was fixed at 30 seats in the Assembly (out of a total 627)
and 14 seats in the Council of the Republic (320 seats). UDMA boycotted the
elections, and the lower college sent five MTLD deputies (this was the first
time the party contested elections), two communists (supported by UDMA)
and eight “moderates” (assimilationists) to the National Assembly. Electoral
participation of lower-college voters was only 39 per cent. With the metro-
politan legislature completed by the indirect election for the Council of the
Republic (UDMA took four of the seven lower college seats), and the new
constitution formally in place, attention could now be turned to defining more
precisely the juridical framework and political institutions considered
suitable for post-war Algeria.
The final product of the next months’ deliberations was the “Statut” of
September 20th, 1947, a constitutional formula distinguished by its in-
coherence and its permissiveness vis-a-vis French interests in Algeria. Two
features in the passage of the Statut deserve comment. First, the authoritarian
and unilateral character of the bill. Seven projects were submitted: of these
only the SFIO draft was discussed besides that of the Ramadier coalition
The Algerian Revolution

government; neither the UDMA nor the Muslim “moderates” proposals

were even considered. Whereas in 1943 Peyrouton and Catroux had carefully
taken account of Algerian Muslim demands (if only to appease valuable
allies), by 1947 the Algerian voices most heard were those of Rene Mayer,
Radical deputy for Constantine and a member of almost every government
between 1947–1953, of Henri Borgeaud, of Quilici and Jacques Chevallier. A
second, and related feature was the deliberated deferment of the few gen-
uinely progressive (and therefore delicate) articles of the Statut to later
application by the new Algerian Assembly, a body whose composition and
rules of procedure unmistakably placed it at the disposal of the colonate.
This new Assembly, the major institutional innovation of the Statut, was to
consist of 120 members, chosen equally by the two “colleges” of voters
created in 1945; further, following the suggestion of De Gaulle, its structure
was to follow that of the old Delegations financieres, despite the general
abomination in which the Delegations were held by Algerian Muslims. The
Assembly was to consist of two “Equal and equivalent sections”, deliberating
separately; its decisions, theoretically taken by simple majority, could on the
demand of the Governor-General, the Commission of Finances or one
quarter of the members of the Assembly be made conditional on a further,
two-thirds majority vote (Article 39). By this provision, it was ensured that
the Assembly would be the perfect instrument for the continuation of the
domination of the European minority. Between 1948 and 1954, not a single
one of those articles of the statute whose implementation had been devolved
upon the Algerian Assembly were enacted.44 As Abbas wrote afterwards, the
Statute “was the result of a compromise between the ‘metropolis’ and the
Frenchmen of Algeria, between the ‘legal’ power still exercised by Parlia-
ment and the ‘factual’ power wielded by the ultras, at Algiers”.
By the terms of the Statute, Algeria was defined as a group of juxtaposed
departments distinguished by their separate civil status, by their financial
autonomy and by a common administrative structure. French citizenship,
granted equally to all in Article 2, was withdrawn and qualified by Article 30
which created two categories of citizens; those of the First College, whose
civil status was French, and those of the Second College, whose civil status
was “local”. Algeria’s singularity as “a group of departments” was sealed by
its special institutions. A Governor-General, the chief executive, appointed by
the French Government and responsible to the Minister of the Interior, was

44 These crucial provisions covered (1) the transformation of the special administrative

regime of the Saharan territories into regular departements; (2) the replacement of the 78
“communes-mixtes” (administrative units covering the nine-tenths of Algeria overwhelm-
ingly muslim in population; they were governed by an administrator and nominated
“commission communale”) by the democratic “communes de plein exercice” already en-
joyed by the Europeans; (3) the enfranchisement of muslim women; (4) the promotion of
Arabic as a recognized statutory language within the French Union; (5) the separation of
Islam from control by the state administration. Of these, only the last had even reached the
stage of committee discussions by 1954. The others remained as testimony to the impotence
of the IVth Republic to enforce its fundamental constitutional principles against the will of
the Algerian colonate.

to be assisted by a conseil du gouvernment and by the Algerian Assembly. The

latter’s competence was severely circumscribed: it was limited to the vote on the
the budget, to the election of six conseillors of the French Union, to modi-
fication of laws not considered capable of integral application to Algeria
and lastly to the questions specifically left to its initiative by the Statute.
This limited delegation of powers from the metropolitan legislature
clearly revealed the continued primacy of the principle of “assimilation”. The
Algerian Assembly was definitely not to be the institutional embodiment of
Algerian “Home Rule”. However, as Jeanson observed, the essential power
of the Assembly lay in its “mecanisme de blocage”. The colons’ negative
power was greatly enhanced by the Statute: they could fail to ratify liberaliz-
ing initiatives from across the Mediterranean, and, under the “two-thirds”
rule, could systematically block unwelcome measures proposed by Muslims
in the second college. From 1948–1954, the political history of Algeria is that
of the application, or rather of the violation by the authorities, of the Statute
of 1947.45
Confused and timid, the Statute satisfied neither the Europeans nor the
Muslims. How could a specious juridical inventiveness and the provision of a
multiplicity of elections succeed when the colonate made plain its irre-
concileable opposition to any nationalist advance, when Muslim repre-
sentatives were shouted down during the discussions in the National
Assembly, and when Ramadier had taken the extremely significant pre-
caution of disenfranchising the class of Muslim primary-school graduates46
with the revealing words, “. . . it seems to us that the registration of ele-
mentary-school graduates, whose number is increasing with the development of
public education, would deal the principle of homogeneity such a blow that
the regulations would have to be entirely reviewed in a very few years’ time
(our italics)”? As time passed, it became clear that the Statute had effected
only one major innovation in the methods of European rule: the partisans of
Algerie francaise were compelled to subvert the legal order set up for their
own defence. The phase of legal elections became the phase of such illegal
intervention and completely unrepresentative returns that elections a
l’algerienne became part of the universal political vocabulary of our times. As
Opperman drily remarks, “the few years of relative stability extorted in this
way were dearly purchased, at the price of a slow but total devaluation of the
Statut of 1947 in the eyes of all politically conscious Algerians”.47
The new relation of forces was clarified at the municipal elections of
October 1947, the first to be organized under the Statute, and by the elections
to the Algerian Assembly in April of the following year.48

Nouschi, p.153.
Enfranchized (as it turned out, temporarily) under the electoral law of October 5th, 1946.
T. Opperman, op. cit, p. 96. The complete discrediting of all French-administered
elections during 1948–54 made subsequent offers of elections subsequent to a cease-fire
totally unserious to all those with any Algerian experience.
The registered electorate in 1947 was: Upper College 409,000 Europeans (88.1 per cent)
and 63,000 Muslims (11.1 per cent); and Lower College 1,301,000 Muslims.
The Algerian Revolution

The municipal elections confirmed the political polarization of the two

communities: nationalists were swept into the seats reserved for the repre-
sentatives of the lower college, while the upper college showed a marked
swing to the right in favour of the Union Algerienne, a bloc of parties from
which Communists and socialists were excluded. In the lower college, which
of course was entitled only to two-fifths of the city council seats, the votes
were distributed as follows:

Parties % of Votes

Total 62
Others 38
All 100
These results galvanized the colonial bloc into launching a virulent cam-
paign against the “liberalism” of the socialist Governor-General Chataigneau,
whom they held responsible for this unpleasant freedom of expression of
Muslim opinion. The upper-college deputies, Rene Mayer and Jacques
Chevallier prominent among them, agitated for the dismissal of “Ben
Mohammed” Chataigneau: the Algerian and the French Right-wing Press
was orchestrated behind them. This campaign was successful, and in February
1948 Chataigneau was replaced by Marcel-Edmond Naegelen, a socialist
deputy from Alsace who was to prove violently hostile to “secessionists” and
whose “organization” of the elections is were all that could be desired.
With the victory of Naegelen’s appointment, colonialist and reactionary
forces had definitively restabilized their political position. The equilibrium so
profoundly disturbed by the war of 1939–45 was rediscovered in a systematic
perversion of the Statut which Paris refused to prevent. The context of this
relative political regression was the beginning of the Cold War, the tidal wave
of anti-communism originating with Truman’s Message to Congress and
faithfully relayed throughout Western Europe by spokesmen of the Right and
Centre (and in some cases, of the Left). During 1947, the critical dismissal of
Communist ministers from the Ramadier Government was followed by the
decisive option for Marshall Aid. A frenzy of anti-communism swept the
bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie in France. De Gaulle, anxious to exploit
this fervour for the RPF, denounced the Communist “Fifth Column”. The
French municipal elections of October 1947, emotional and politically
infantilist, registered a 40 per cent “anti-communist” vote: observers spoke of
“a fascist revival”. Henceforth the communists—one-fifth of the population
and one-quarter of the electorate—were effectively “disenfranchised”, and a
bewildering succession of Centre-Right coalitions emerged whose instability
turned the strong political influence of the upper college Algerian deputies

into a total veto. Alfred Grosser summarized the “liberal” dilemma in a

period of anti-communism :
“. . . All, or almost all, Frenchmen claim to be liberal. But this . . .
cleavage makes a liberal policy impossible. To bring liberty to overseas
people, there is no majority without Communists. But to defend the
liberties that Communism seeks to destroy, the only majority is with those
who refuse liberty to Asians and Africans. Italy without colonies and
Great Britain without a Communist electorate are better placed . . .”49
Thus Robert Schumann, who personified accommodation both as Premier
in 1947 and as Foreign Minister in every successive government until 1953,
gave way to the chorus from the Right, and the “Naegelen era” opened.
The results of the first-day polling in the April 1948 elections to the
Algerian Assembly were decisive The swing towards the nationalists among
the voters for the lower college, begun in the municipal elections of October
1947, was unmistakably accelerated.50 As a senior police chief remarked, at
this rate of progress the MTLD would soon be taking 90 per cent of the
votes. This led to the radical change in colonialist strategy. Although the
“two-thirds” rule could legally take care of a lower house that was 100 per
cent MTLD, the incessant use of the rule would be too revelatory of the
nature of Algerian society, too provocative politically. The rule was never
invoked. Instead, the elections were distorted to such a point that nobody,
except perhaps the colons, could take them seriously. In the “run-off”
election of April 11th, the danger of April 4th was averted. The nationalist
vote was brought down to 24 per cent in the upper college, the swing was
firmly to the Right.
Lower College: UDMA 8 seats Upper College: Union Alg 40 seats
MTLD 9 seats SFIO 4 seats
PCA — seats PCA 1 seat
Others 43 seats Others 15 seats
European jubilation was open. “On this day of peace and glory”, ex-
claimed the Echo d’Alger “in this newspaper where we have striven un-
ceasingly to bring forth this radiant and comforting dawn, we may say with
pride: in Algeria, henceforth, France marches on”.
For the next six years, electoral falsification became the basis of the
forward march of French “way of life”. Fraud was open, indeed con-
substantial with a new political order whose determining characteristic was
the easy deflection in practice of the democratic forms prescribed in the
Constitution. A witness of the March 1949 election to the Conseils Generaux,
the MRP deputy to the National Assembly Jacques Fonlupt-Esperaber,
wrote to Jules Moch, the socialisit Minister of the Interior responsible for the
elections, “. . . It is beyond argument that, in the district I visited, the election

Quoted by Dorothy Pickles, Algeria and France (1963), p. 58.
MTLD obtained 30 per cent of the lower-college votes, UDMA 18 per cent, PCA 2 per
cent—a 50 per cent nationalist role!
The Algerian Revolution

was neither free nor sincere. It is not the voters who choose the successful
candidate. The Administration chose him by using the tested methods
which, in Algeria, are the fruit of disgraceful experience. This fact is not only
indisputable: it is admitted. It occurred to none of the officials I saw to deny
for an instant that, in Algeria, elections are the business of the Administra-
tion . . . One of them declared outright, in the presence of our colleague,
M. Pierre-Henri Teitgen (another MRP deputy) that he “made the elections”,
because such were the orders he received from above . . . Allow me to say
with all frankness, that the methods I witnessed, and which I have good
reason to believe are generally employed for second-college elections to the
General Councils, are intolerable.51
The results of the plurality of elections—an average of two a year for the
Algerian Assembly, the “Conseils Generaux” and the municipalities were
meaningless except as indications of the symbiosis of colonate and ad-
ministration under Governor-General Naegelen and his successor Leonard
(straight from the Paris prefecture of police). The growing perfection of this
system of rule is shown in the steady elimination of nationalist representatives
in the Algerian Assembly.
Second College:
1948 1951 1954
% Seats % Seats % Seats
MTLD 30 9 0.7 4 0 0
UDMA 18 8 11 5 5 5
PCA 2 0 4.3 0 1.3 0
Others 50 43 84 51 93.7 55
M. Clark, op. cit. p. 86
Degeneration was not, however, confined to administrative virtuosity in
the organization of elections. The social and economic situation of the
Muslim population stagnated, and in some respects deteriorated. Rapid
demographic advance (three-quarters of a million 1947–54) aggravated
structural unemployment, under-employment and emigration to France.52
The limited programmes of social and economic amelioration promoted
under Chataigneau atrophied or lapsed altogether. The “Direction de Plan”
was suppressed in 1948. The municipal centres stagnated. The SAR were
converted into mere appendages of the SIP. The credits assigned to soil
restoration were so derisory that the encroachments of erosion (50,000 ha
per annum) exceeded the tempo of restoration (only 30,000 ha per year in
1953 and 1954). The agrarian colonate prospered while the condition of the
Muslims palpably degenerated—to the shocked dismay of those few ob-

51 Quoted by M. Clark, op. cit., p. 56.

52 Estimated at 100,000 in 1948, the number had more than tripled by 1954.

servers who took the trouble to observe.53 The colons blocked the implemen-
tation of the “progressive” wartime loi Martin,54 and devoted their energies to
the overproduction of wine. “The losses borne by the Treasury, both through
the disposal of surplus alcohol and through the build-up of stocks, amount to
some 70 milliard francs annually, which is equivalent to the total value of
credits voted to Youth and Sports since 1946”.55
The inadequacy of legal politics became increasingly evident to Algerian
nationalists. “La Republique Francaise donc a triché”, wrote Boumendjel in
1951, “Elle nous a dupe. Et nous serions a droit de prendre acte, le coeur
ulceré, de ce qu’Aimée Cesaire a appele l’impossible contacte”. The de-
termined immobilism of Paris in ace of the perversion of the Statute of 1947
confronted the nationalist parties with fundamental problems of strategy and
organization. The character of the armed insurrection that began in 1954 was
determined by the previous failures of the nationalist parties to resolve these
Classically reformist, UDMA suffered defeat and disintegration because of
the colonate’s brutal refusal to join in the (parliamentary) dialogue on which
its existence depended. Socially based on the petit-bourgeoisie and pro-
fessional classes of the small towns, UDMA’s programme and methods were
ill-suited to the conditions of pseudo-legality and accelerating rupture
which characterized Algeria under the Statute. Le Tourneau correctly noted
that “There is a social gulf between the UDMA, party of cadres and mod-
erates and the mass of the population which is half-starving and easy to
Parliamentarianism was the necessary medium of existence for the UDMA
which was neither an islamic nor an arab party, but rather lay and culturally
gallicized. Deprived of the parliamentary platform, and unable to satisfy the
demands of its members, the party declined with each successive electoral
setback. In April 1954, in an UDMA Conference of Cadres, Abbas formu-
lated the impasse with desperate lucidity.56
“We must avow it, the gigantic mystification and cynical swindling of
which Algeria has become a victim since the promulgation of the reforms,
has almost made us disappear. It is certainly evident that a progressive

Tillion declared herself “thunderstruck” by the “pauperization” between 1940 and 1955.
In 1940, “these men had been living sparingly but reasonably”. In 1955, “nine families out
of ten were living from hand to mouth” (Algeria: The Realities) 1958 p. 22.
Passed in March 1942, the loi Martin enacted that 15 per cent of lands whose value had
been multiplied by state irrigation projects was to be returned to the state for redistribution.
It was further specified that only lands formerly belonging to muslims (in fact, the least
likely to own properties in irrigated areas) could be redistributed among landless muslims;
thus, European properties stayed European. Even so, the achievement was derisory: by
1953, only 71,000 ha had been effected by the law. See Barbé, “La Question de la Terre”.
55 Andre Griset, Le Monde 17.8.55.
56 Quoted by Joan Gillespie, Algeria: Rebellion and Revolution (1960) p. 74.
The Algerian Revolution

party which has based its actions on the respect of legality and which
militates in favour of “revolution by the law” can no longer advance when
the public authorities make arbitrary an institution of the State. There is
all the drama of our Party . . .”
The collapse of the UDMA merely emphasized the incapacity of the
petit-bourgeoisie and the westernized intellectuals to bring a solution—
which could only be a revolutionary one—to the lengthy crisis of Algerian
nationalism. The party’s failure was summarized in its eventual abandon-
ment of systematic opposition in the Algerian Assembly whenever basic
issues were not at stake. It was clear that other forces had to assume the
leadership of the national revolution.
More dynamic and militantly nationalist than UDMA, and with a long
pedigree of intransigeance, it seemed that the MTLD might become a mass
revolutionary party, capable of confronting and overthrowing colonial
domination. Its membership, 12,000 in 1952, was put a year later at 24,000 in
Algeria and 6,800 in France. Based on the working-class of the larger urban
centres, the party also attracted into its ranks students and revolutionary
intellectuals such as Dr. Lamine-Debaghine. Rigid discipline and an articu-
lated structuration57 were constantly emphasized. “If I were a teacher, and
the Algerian people my pupil”, cried Messali, “I would have him conjugate
the verb ‘to organize’ every day”.
How was it that the MTLD, far from seizing its historical opportunity, had
disintegrated by the end of 1953 into schismatic and sterile rivalry? The
explanation must be sought in certain special features in the party’s history
and structure.
Firstly, the structural ambiguity of the party was registered in its curious
hybrid title. Founded as a legal successor to the old PPA, it was never clear
whether the MTLD was intended to be a mere parliamentary cloak for the
PPA (to which Messali made frequent references and of which he remained
President) or was a replacement of it. This incoherence reflected a funda-
mental indecision about legal politics: the MTLD participated in the “sterile
parliamentarianism” denounced by the clandestine PPA. The improvised
and irresolute nature of this tactic led to a considerable tension between the
intransigeants of the PPA and the politicians of the MTLD. “Many young
PPA militants who had agitated in clandestinity up to 1946, disaffected by
the new parliamentary tactic of the MTLD and by the collapse of principles
and organization, withdrew from the ranks to give way to newcomers”.58
This dissatisfaction crystallized in the formation in 1947 of the Organisation

Clark, p. 70–1.
58 Mostefa Lacheraf, “Le Nationalisme Algerien en marche vers l’Unité”, Temps Modernes,
June 1956. Mostefa Lacheraf typifies the younger revolutionary intellectual who rallied to
the FLN. Appointed as the FLN’s chief propagandist in France, Lacheraf was kidnapped
along with other members of the FLN’s “external delegation” in October 1956.

Speciale, a secret paramilitary formation whose first national chief was

Ait Ahmed (replaced by Ben Bella in September 1949).
This structural equivocation clearly corresponded to the absence of any
long-term tactic and a remarkable ideological paucity. “Direct Action” was
constantly demanded but remained unlocated in practice: the MTLD
confined itself to revolutionary verbalism, while the PPA remained devoted to
an amorphous “social agitation”. As Jeanson observed, “The secret organiza-
tion of the PPA not being relayed by the rigour of a positive doctrine makes
it elude the grasp even of its own leaders”. Until the MTLD Congress of
1953 and the emergence of the Centralists there was no serious ideological
elaboration in the Party: its militants concentrated upon simplified ob-
jectives—independence, the Arab nation, the defence of Islam, and the
creation of an Algerian Constituent Assembly.
Lacking any coherent programme or ideology, oscillating between legality
and illegality, the party nevertheless possessed a rigid pyramidal structure on
the lines of a disciplined Communist (not to say Stalinist) party. This was not
the least of the contradictions of the MTLD: an islamic, consciously anti-
communist formation which was structured on CP lines and similarly
deformed by the cult of personality. Without any clear alternative purpose, an
elaborate vertical organization (executive—central committee—wilayas—
dairas—kasmas) merely sérved the celebration of Messali’s charisma.
Discontent with the absence of internal democracy in the party organization
was endemic. In 1949, following protests against “the authoritarian centra-
lism of the dictator who reigns over the party”, the central committee
dissolved the federal council of France. The explosion did not occur until the
schism of 1953, and resulted in part from Messali’s exile to France in 1952
following his disturbingly successful tour of Algeria. In his absence, the
chance for an open expression of the desire for structural and doctrinal
reforms was seized by the Central Committee. Messali, accusing the Secre-
tary-General and the committee of “reformist deviation”, withdrew his
support and instituted administrative measures (purges, rival conferences,
etc) to eliminate the opposition. The MTLD, irrevocably split, was now no
more capable than UDMA of a frontal attack on the colonial system.
Algerian nationalism was marked by a triple failure in the years between
1947 and 1954. First, unity of the nationalist forces remained as distant as
before: UDMA and MTLD competed at, and thus gave weight to, elections
which both parties knew to be a charade. They attacked each other in their
party press, and made no attempt to regroup around a general programme
comparable to that of the Manifesto of 1943. The shortlived “Front Algerien
pour la Defense et la Respect de a Liberte” of 1951 was a poor imitation of
the AML: constructed around short-term and unrealisable objectives
(annulment of 1951 lower-college elections, release of political prisoners,
religious independence), it lacked a common organization and, most im-
portant, it lacked a strategy adapted to its real situation. Immobilism fostered
fractionalism, and it dissolved within six months.
The Algerian Revolution

Secondly, both UDMA and the MTLD were unable to overcome their
social origins in successfully assuming the direction of a national revolution
against the colonial system in Algeria. This failure must be partially related to
the relative weakness of the social strata on which they were based—re-
spectively, the commercial and professional petit-bourgeoisie, and the
metropolitan and urban proletariat. This rather close correspondence,
appropriate to conditions of more advanced political struggle, was unsuitable
to the form of national mobilization required in Algeria. Both parties,
socially and regionally exclusive, were unable to penetrate and mobilize the
diffuse rural population, which was difficult to organize and unresponsive to
the unspecific and somewhat corporatist demands which UDMA and the
MTLD advanced. It was above all this lack of an adequate strategy, a
positive perspective of action, which prevented either of the parties from
taking the leadership of a nation whose dominant social force was the
The fundamental problem of strategy was that of legality and illegality. To
adopt electoral and parliamentary forms of struggle within the terms of a
constitution cynically disregarded by the colonate was to accept demobiliza-
tion and defeat: to adopt violent means was to run the risk of another
“Setif ” repression and perhaps with no better results. The parties, by their
nature preferring legal struggle, but forced to recognize the hopeless im-
probability of advance by constitutional methods, were crippled by this
dilemma. Incapable of making history under “Algerian” conditions, the
parties were finally replaced by a completely new kind of organization.
In fact, simultaneously with the manoeuvring of the parties and almost
entirely escaping their control, there had been a constant undercurrent of
violence since 1946. At every election, polling stations and police were
attacked by enraged voters; holdups and assassinations were frequent; the
Aures and other mountain ranges were roamed by gangs of bandits. This
violence, spontaneous and uncanalized, was the force which the Organisation
Secrete hoped to discipline and orient. The creation of an underground
guerilla network, linked to traditional Berber outlaws, and the preparation of
logistic and financial bases between 1947 and 1949, was set back by the
extensive uncovery of the organization by the police in 1950. Documents
were seized and many militants arrested.
But while this blow destroyed he possibility of an armed insurrection at
the beginning of the ’fifties, sporadic violence continued and the Comité
Revolutionnaire pour l’Unite et l’Action (formed in 1954 by the original
leaders of the O.S.) was able to launch the uprising of November 1954,
partly on the basis of the original preparations of the O.S. These inde-
pendent initiatives, opposed by the party leaderships, were to provide the
revolutionary answer to the inflexible domination of the colonate. Just as in
the nineteenth century organized resistance deteriorated into petty banditry,
so now banditry was to prove the origin of national insurrection.

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